How to Craft an Employee Handbook Outside the United States or Whether to Issue One at All

Most all major U.S. employers, and many smaller ones, have issued and periodically update employee handbooks—staff guides explaining how the organization’s particular workplace works. U.S. human resources experts almost unanimously recommend handbooks as tools for both running human resources and complying with the law.

In most (albeit not all) overseas markets, U.S.-style employee handbooks tend to be rare. In most (again, not all) jurisdictions outside the United States, locally based employers—the employers that best understand their own home markets—tend not to issue staff handbooks at all, particularly not comprehensive U.S.-style handbooks. In fact, in many jurisdictions the employers that issue handbooks tend to be only the in-country outposts of U.S.-headquartered organizations. This difference in the prevalence of employee handbooks, U.S. versus abroad, raises the questions: Are employee handbooks a useful HR tool that happens to have developed in the United States, and that might prove equally or even more viable when exported abroad? Or do local overseas employers avoid staff handbooks because they understand something about their home markets that might not be obvious to a multinational’s U.S. headquarters?

There is no simple answer. In practice, promulgating a U.S.-style employee handbook internationally (be it a single global handbook, aligned local handbooks one per jurisdiction, or a master global handbook plus local riders/addenda) can be a viable international HR strategy for some, but by no means all, multinational employers. Any multinational contemplating overseas employee handbooks needs an international employee handbook strategy. In developing that strategy, account for four issues: employee handbooks outside U.S. employment-at-will; the myth of the single global employee handbook; aligning local-jurisdiction employee handbooks; and alternatives to employee handbooks outside the United States. This Report discusses these four issues.

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Information contained in this publication is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or opinion, nor is it a substitute for the professional judgment of an attorney.