Should Your Employment Policies Be Translated?

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“Comprenden sus empleados las políticas de empleo?” Do you understand what it says? As an employer, in California and other states, having Spanish speaking employees in your company, it is critical, if not detrimental that you take notice of a recent decision by a Federal Court judge.

An employer was sued by his former employee for alleged unpaid wages. Since the employee had signed an agreement, at the start of his employment, stating that any disputes related to his employment would have to be arbitrated, it was no surprise that the employer asked the court to send the case to arbitration.

The employee contended that the arbitration agreement cannot be enforced because the employer committed fraud by refusing his requests for: 1. Providing a version of the agreement in Spanish, although he was given other documents in Spanish except for the agreement; 2. An explanation of the agreement in Spanish; 3. Taking the time to review the agreement at home.

The federal court was in agreement with the employee that he was deceived by the employer and the judge’s ruling was that since the employee’s requests were denied, the arbitration agreement was null and void. The judge also wrote that the policy favors arbitration over litigation and that a party’s inability to understand English generally will not allow that party to get out of the contract. However, in this unique circumstance, where the employee has clearly shown that he was denied any assistance in understanding the agreement and was not allowed to review the agreement at home, the judge found that the employee not to be bound by the agreement.

In another unrelated consumer case, the Florida Supreme court’s decision in Basulto v. Hialeah Automotive brought out that an arbitration agreement in English cannot be enforced against any party that does not speak or understand English.

Most employers try to take a safe approach and have at least the critical documents translated into other languages especially Spanish! A few translate the entire handbook or translate critical employment policies (e.g., equal employment opportunity, anti-harassment, discrimination, and retaliation policies).

The first sentence translated means: Do your employees understand the employment policies?

The following information is taken from an article by Bayardo Aleman. (Link)


Anitha Johny
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