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International HR: Mandatory Time Off - What's That?

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International HR: Mandatory Time Off - What's That?

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Getting ready to hire employees for a new overseas office? Quick! How many paid vacation days will you be required to give them?

If you couldn’t answer that question right away, or you didn’t even know you have to provide paid vacations, keep reading.

When expanding abroad, many HR executives trip over the mandatory paid time off requirements in other countries. That’s because the US doesn’t mandate paid time off, while every other advanced economy in the world does. In fact, there are only 12 other countries in the world that don’t guarantee workers paid vacations.

In the US, private sector workers, on average, get 10 days off per year, and even less at businesses with fewer than 100 employees. So, if you’re an average US employer, your standard paid vacation offering would be legal in Japan and parts of Canada (where policies differ at the provincial level). But in the rest of the world’s 20 most-developed economies, you’d have to at least double your paid time off to avoid running afoul of the law.

France mandates 30 paid vacation days a year for all workers and Scandinavian countries require 25. In Austria, employees are entitled to 25 paid vacation days and 13 holidays every year. In China, employers must observe a minimum of 11 paid holidays every year.

Many countries take these requirements very seriously, making it the responsibility of employers to track their employees’ vacation time and sometimes literally bar them from working to ensure they take all their required vacation. And in some countries — notably Austria, Denmark, and Belgium — employers are actually required to send their employees on holiday with a bonus (we want to make sure they enjoy themselves, don’t we?).

Mandatory national holidays are important to keep track of, not only because they’re days that your in-country employees won’t be working, but also because they’re days that you’ll be unable to conduct business with virtually all other businesses in that country.

If you're hiring and managing employees overseas, not only do you have to plan and budget for mandatory paid time off you would never dream possible, but you must also consider customary time off (mandatory time off is a minimum, but by no means a maximum) if you want to compete for and retain quality talent. For example, in much of Europe, employees will expect to work very little, if at all, during the month of August.

All of this tends to be very new, and often disorienting, to human resources departments used to operating on the American model. In fact, the US ranks low in all other kinds of mandatory paid time off: maternity leave, paternity leave, and sick time. All of these present their own issues for US firms hiring abroad.

Are you confused yet? We can help you keep it all straight. Contact us to talk with me or one of our other international HR experts. As for what to do when your stateside employees find out about all the paid vacation their overseas colleagues are getting — well, that’s an issue for another day.

As you can tell, staying in compliance with employment law around the world is a tough task. If you're in the process of hiring overseas, register for our upcoming webinar Global Talent Acquisition: Stretegies and Considerations for Overseas Hiring.


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