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Not Translating Employee Handbooks Can Be Costly

January 24, 2014

For multinationals and US companies with a multilingual workforce, translating employee handbooks and codes of conduct is an absolute must. In fact, not translating key workplace communications can even violate language laws abroad, and make companies vulnerable to lawsuits that are far more costly than translating even the thickest employee handbook.

In one recent example, 10 Hispanic employees in Colorado filed suit against their employer, Spud Seller, Inc., for sexual harassment. The company’s employee handbook included a policy against sexual harassment, but this policy was in English only. In dismissing Spud Seller’s argument that the case should be thrown out because anti-harassment policies were adequately communicated, the district court judge found “no evidence that [the handbook’s] provisions were translated into Spanish or that written translations were supplied to Spanish-speaking employees. There is evidence that the policy was ‘explained’ in Spanish, but it is not clear what was actually explained.” The company later settledĀ  by agreeing to pay $255,000 while denying all allegations. Experts say the ruling sends a clear message that companies must communicate anti-harassment and other codes of conduct in whichever language their employees require.

Ensuring clear and effective communication means translating employee handbooks and codes of conduct via trained HR translators. Online and machine translations are risky since poorly communicated policies and guidelines can still leave companies open to lawsuits and other sanctions.

Setting aside legal issues, translating key HR communications like employee handbooks is a good practice for multinational and multilingual companies. It helps get everyone on the same page, and even if global staffers understand English, they will “get the message” more clearly in their native language. Once you factor in the risk and potential cost of not translating employee handbooks and codes of conduct, the benefits become crystal clear.