Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.

When in Rome, do as the Romans, unless, of course, you’re an employer regulating workplace behavior. Companies with global offices should consider adopting a uniform code of conduct for all employees. That’s what Stephen Hirschfeld, CEO of the Employment Law Alliance and a partner at San Francisco’s Curiale Hirschfeld Kraemer, has been preaching to companies over the past year. Hirschfeld, who has represented global companies for nearly three decades, said over the past year he’s heard a lot of questions from companies with an international presence about whether certain behavior by overseas employees should be tolerated because it’s acceptable under local customs or laws. For example, should an employer allow managers in Saudi Arabia to deny promotions to female employees? Or look the other way when its Chinese facility refuses to hire the best qualified engineer because he is gay? If it’s unethical, discriminatory or retaliatory in your eyes, don’t do it, advises Hirschfeld. The following Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. NLJ: I understand you lecture on this topic often. How does the issue come up? Is this something companies have expressed an interest in? SL: [Twice last year I was] asked by a large Asian conference to come over and talk about a similar topic. I did it for Korean companies in the spring. It’s becoming a bigger issue, particularly in India. NLJ: So who wants advice on this stuff? Is it American companies with offices abroad or foreign companies with offices here? SL: Both. As companies get more global, they need to decide whether or not they want to focus their codes of conduct on the rules affecting the jurisdiction they’re in. For instance, what if we’re in the Middle East? Just because there is discrimination against gays doesn’t mean a company has to tolerate discrimination there. Or just because women in many cases are not given the same credence in the workplace in certain jurisdictions, doesn’t mean that we as a company have to tolerate that. NLJ: So just because something isn’t illegal doesn’t mean a company should tolerate it. Is that what you’re saying? SL: If you have a philosophy that allows your employees to do whatever they want unless it’s illegal, that’s a very low bar. Consider workplace bullying. Workplace bullying is not illegal except in Quebec and a couple of the European countries. Does that mean it’s OK? What you don’t want to do is simply rely on the [local] government to tell you what is accepted and what is not. NLJ: So what do you tell American companies that are setting up offices overseas? What kinds of problems can they avoid? SL: [Employment] laws are often extremely different than they are here, and the cultural differences are extremely different. For example, in Japan, you would not call someone and say, “We have to lay you off.” It’s supposed to be voluntary. They have to understand what you’re doing, but you want their agreement. NLJ: What happens if an American worker working overseas for an American company is discriminated against? Whose laws apply? SL: If we’re talking about an American citizen, the [U.S.] discrimination laws. Otherwise, you look to the local laws. NLJ: And what if the local laws don’t apply to, say, sexual harassment? Should a company make that part of its global code of conduct? SL: I say to my clients, “So it’s not illegal in Saudia Arabia to do X, but is that the way you want your people treated?” NLJ: Do you find that the U.S. discrimination laws and employment standards are the best? SL: In some areas we’re quite good, in some no — like workplace bullying. Jurisdictions in Europe are far ahead on that. They would not tolerate certain types of abusive behavior at work that’s tolerated here. NLJ: What’s your idea of a perfect policy? SL: What I say to our clients is, “I want you to decide for yourself, what do you care about, what corporate culture is important to you. Make a list.” NLJ: Do most of your clients get this universal code of conduct? SL: Oh yeah, once you explain it to them, it’s rare that one doesn’t do it.

This content has been archived. It is available through our partners, LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law.

To view this content, please continue to their sites.

Not a Lexis Advance® Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Not a Bloomberg Law Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Why am I seeing this?

LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law are third party online distributors of the broad collection of current and archived versions of ALM's legal news publications. LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law customers are able to access and use ALM's content, including content from the National Law Journal, The American Lawyer, Legaltech News, The New York Law Journal, and Corporate Counsel, as well as other sources of legal information.

For questions call 1-877-256-2472 or contact us at [email protected]


ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2021 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.