Monday, November 20, 2006

Get Out of My Office! You are Fired...Not!

In some countries labor laws are so strict that firing someone is a difficult, lengthy and expensive proposition. However, many expats, both the managers and employees are not aware of those. Hence, western managers brought into the country fire people for the reasons that they would fire them at home for (many of which are trivial). In the US one can fire people for being late five minutes or for simply not liking them. However, “You are fired! Get out of my office!” will not fly in many societies where you cannot do those things by law, and where unions and labor boards are so strong that their protection for employees seems to be absolute.

So, a British company in Kuwait, for example, is subject to Kuwaiti labor laws, and when in Japan, the Japanese labor code kicks in. Hence, a sadistic foreign henchman who thrives on power can no longer exercise his prerogative for kicking people out at will the way he/she could often do at home.

Even if an employee’s contract is not renewed, some countries will still see it as firing and local laws to protect the worker will apply.

I remember when a British employee did not have his contract renewed in Kuwait for no apparent reason except some complaints by customers. He was let go along with five more members of staff by a British manager who saw that as a sufficient reason to not renew their contracts. Most fired people just left it at that, but one decided to hire an attorney and fight them in court. He was surprised to see that the Kuwaiti laws favored him and he was awarded a fat settlement to compensate him for the trauma. It took him a bit of time, but not only he was awarded a tidy sum for his humiliation but the tyrannical manager was fired instead. Sorry, it is not the UK here. You can’t do those things.

I personally was once told in Japan by a British administrator that my contract for the next year was not to be renewed. The reason? Being late on several occasions. However, I contacted the labor union, and it turned out that in Japan, you cannot fire people for being late. You can dock their pay and reprimand them, but it is not a “fireable” offense. After the union got involved, the company had to either reinstate me or pay me money for the months that I had missed while the case was disputed. “You did not renew a person’s contract for being late? Ridiculous!” I pocketed the money. The company that initially was unwilling to re-hire me also had to pay other costs pertaining to the ‘trial’.

So, expat employees – study the labor law in your host country and know your rights! Don’t just walk away with the “ Oh, well…” if a livid-faced, saliva-spitting Western boss is firing you. Check if your offense is trivial or not by local codes. Contact an attorney, and if you find out your rights have been violated, fight! You can get big money from the company. And you, arrogant Western managers-tyrants! Beware! You are not on your home turf anymore. Wait till you are faced with the devil himself- the labor regulations of your new country. You can and will get burnt big time. Ouch!

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