Legal Language Translation in a Global Work Setting

Legal Translation Services for Companies with Global Workforce

There is a growing need for legal translation services for multinational and multilingual corporations.  When a company goes from being a national company to an international company, many regulatory and legal obligations arise. From incorporation to taxation and employment, every marketplace a company enters will have its own rules and regulations. Unfortunately, one of the most crucial aspects to operating a successful multinational company all too often is overlooked due to the attention devoted to these more ‘pressing’ legal issues. The aspect we are talking about is language.

When operating on the global marketplace different languages come into play. But the issue of language goes much further than communicating to employees and customers. Often times it also involves legal issues. For instance, what language do employment agreements and policies need to be in? Is English sufficient or will a foreign language translation be required?

Statutory Requirements for Foreign Language Translations

As a general rule, foreign language translations into the local language (or many times, languages) will be required by law, often known as mandatory language laws

Examples of countries operating with mandatory language laws are Belgium (French, Flemish, German), France and Russia. These countries require that all employment documentation be drafted in the local jurisdiction and in the language of that jurisdiction.

Thus, for instance, in Belgium, if you are basing your company in southern Liege, the contract would have to be drafted in French. If, however, your company was in northern Antwerp, then the contract would have to be drafted in Flemish. And to make things even more complicated, if you based your company in bilingual Brussels, then the contract would have to be in either French or Flemish and, in most cases, include a foreign language translation of the other language.

Failure to provide the required foreign language translations will result in fines. More so, typically the contract with the employee will be deemed void.

Even in countries without mandatory language laws there are often other non-legal requirements for providing a foreign language translation of all employment related documents. For example, many local collective groups (i.e., work councils and unions) require all negotiations and agreements be provided in the local language. More so, many government agencies will simply not accept a document that does not include a foreign language translation.

With this in mind, one should take a look at their global Code of Conduct. Often times these codes will have to be negotiated with the work councils of the local jurisdictions. Thus, although you have a global code in English, this needs to essentially be localized and an important part of doing so is to provide a foreign language translation. As another example, countries such as Japan, Korea and Taiwan all require work rules to be drafted and submitted to the government. Although there are no mandatory language rules in these countries, the relevant agencies will require that the work rules be submitted with a foreign language translation.

Another reason why regardless of existing language rules, one should always use a foreign language translation is because of enforcement concerns. As in the US, most jurisdictions will not enforce an employee contract in which the employee was unable to understand due to a lack of foreign language translation.

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