The international approach to employee handbooks

Posted on 22 April 2022 by IRIS FMP

Categories: Global Hiring

The global HR policies you outline play a fundamental role in the way your business operates.

Ultimately, key documentation such as your employee handbook will, to some extent, dictate your employee relationships, working environment and culture.

But when you have a workforce that’s dispersed across the globe, creating a standardised employee handbook becomes far more complicated as you’re forced to balance the various in-country nuances.

To help you move forward with confidence, in this blog, we’ve outlined a few key considerations to ensure you’re meeting both in-country regulations, together with providing an employment framework for your employees.

What exactly is an employee handbook?

Before delving into the country-specific distinctions you’ll need to tackle, we’ll outline exactly what an employee handbook is to set the groundwork.

In essence, an employee handbook is a set of documentation that establishes how your business complies with employment legislation and the standards that are expected from management/employees.

Country-specific laws and regulations

If you have employees spread across the globe, your handbook must be carefully tailored for compliance with local laws, since this provides the fundamental baseline to work from.

For example, rolling out a typical U.S. employment handbook abroad can create a number of issues as it would inadvertently extend U.S.-only protections and rights, which won’t apply to other countries.

Points such as Title VII protected categories that apply only to the U.S. would hinder workers operating abroad as they may miss other protective laws such as part-time status in the EU

In some countries such as Japan, France and Belgium for example, there is a criteria that sets out the requirement for the publishing of mandatory “work rules” to employees; such work rules are regulated and therefore do not allow for deviations. 

Consequently, employers need to consider alternatives to and alongside the work rules to convey the company culture and code of conduct. 

And in addition to these in-country nuances, there is the additional complexity of ensuring that your handbook and work rules are published in the correct language, in line with legislation. 

Your compliance with all of these regulations sets the tone of the engagement with employees.

So before circulating your employee handbook to those overseas, you must thoroughly assess their countries laws and alter the legal section of your documentation accordingly.

In-country norms

As previously mentioned, employee handbooks outline far more than legislative responsibilities – they cover expectations and more day-to-day handlings.

This allows you the perfect opportunity to influence the mindset and culture that you want your business to have.

However, when creating this section, it’s worth looking if there are any country-specific norms that you should be considerate towards.

The working hour culture in Spain is changing, for example, according to Dr Isabel Vilaseca, many small towns still take mid-day siestas, and your company location may need considerations around this.

While in New Zealand, quite a few employers are trialling four-day working weeks with relatively good results.  

This particular concept is not restricted to New Zealand of course, but noting that potential cultural shift, helps to shape and mould the future business model, and critically, keeps employees on board with the company’s growth strategy.

It’s these type of quirks that you need to get to grips with when looking to create an employee handbook tailored to a specific country.  

But furthermore, whilst these nuances provide a template basis to work from, it also enables a forward-thinking employer to think more laterally and introduce new initiatives to further enhance employee attraction and engagement.

You may not necessarily adopt these nuances, but having a firm understanding is sure to be beneficial.

Ditching a one-size-fits-all approach – IRIS FMP can help  

Hopefully, the above gives pause for thought and demonstrates why a one-size-fits-all approach won’t work for multinational employee handbooks.

Whilst specific sections can be uniform and used across multiple locations, a level of in-country expertise is needed to manage the varying factors.

This may seem daunting, especially if this is your first expansion into a country – but don’t worry, IRIS FMP is here to help.

For growing businesses, the world’s a stage and our team of experts are here to provide you with confidence and compliance.

Click here to get in touch today and find out how we can help you meet the demands of an international workforce.