4 Ways to Educate Your Multilingual Workforce on Corporate Compliance

English is just one language of a multilingual workforce.

A multilingual workforce requires clear, compelling and concise communications in English.

Ensuring corporate compliance depends on an organization's ability to communicate with its multilingual workforce. While English is a preferred language of business, according to BBC, and many employees can communicate effectively using it, not everyone has learned the language.

Here's why that creates a problem for multinationals as it relates to corporate compliance.

Bribery and Corruption Laws in Foreign Markets

Let's consider the ramifications for violating one of the many bribery and corruption laws. Both the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and the U.K.'s Bribery Act have extraterritorial reach, meaning that organizations with a connection to the U.K. or U.S. can find themselves under scrutiny for alleged violations of the law that took place in a foreign market. Specifically, the FCPA prohibits U.S. citizens, resident aliens as well as businesses registered under U.S. law, or with a principal office in the U.S., from engaging in corrupt activity anywhere in the world. The FCPA also holds businesses liable for the actions officers, directors, executives, employees and intermediaries such as sales agents or vendors.

So what happens when an employee fails to grasp their role in helping your business achieve compliance? As it relates to bribery and corruption, the Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission routinely assess multimillion dollar fines and penalties for violating the FCPA, as noted by Stanford Law School.

However, a lack of employee awareness triggered by their inability to understand English can also land your firm in a court of law for other reasons. If, for example, your organization has a global policy that prohibits sexual harassment, which an employee in a foreign country fails to comprehend and subsequently violates, the injured party may decide to sue your business in a foreign court.

So how do finance leaders make sure their multilingual workforce understands the laws and regulations governing the firm's actions and that of its employees?

Here are four ways your firm can improve its ability to communicate the importance of corporate compliance.

1. Don't assume that employees understand English, especially as it relates to complex laws and regulations

Thanks to the never-ending stream of British and American movies and TV shows and a global push by organizations to adopt English as their primary means of communication, many of your employees likely understand basic English phrases. However, there's a big difference between conversational English and the language enshrined in U.S. law and regulations. Therefore, don't presume that just because an employee speaks English that they can read and understand complex legal terminology.

2. Get rid of jargon, slang and jokes that depend on knowledge of popular culture

Since English is your first language, it's easy to forget how often we pepper verbal and written communications with words and phrases that could confuse a foreign employee. When communicating with foreign employees, focus on delivering clear and concise messages that leave little open to interpretation. Remove jargon, slang words and phrases and anything that could prevent an employee with understanding the policy, procedure, law or regulation and their role in maintaining compliance.

3. Understand cultural nuances, and tailor your communications accordingly

In most parts of the U.S., business communications favor an informal yet direct, no-nonsense approach. That may work here, but in Japan, for example, business culture is much more reserved and being overly direct has the potential to alienate employees there, as Marketplace notes. Therefore, before communicating with employees in a particular market, research the cultural norms, especially as it relates to business customs. Ideally, ask a trusted, local employee to review any communications before you share them to ensure the tone and voice as well as the message is easily understood and within cultural norms.

4. Translate critical documents

Consider translating critical laws and regulations that expose your organization to considerable fines and penalties from English to an employee's native tongue. Also be sure to check local laws to understand which corporate policies or training courses need to be translated into local languages. In doing so, you'll minimize the potential for employees to misunderstand what it takes to comply. Expending the time, effort and expense to translate documents can also help convince regulators of your commitment to a compliance culture.

Achieving global compliance depends on your organization's ability to communicate. In order for an employee to comply with a policy, law or regulation, they must know what's expected of them. When communicating with a multilingual workforce, businesses must err on the side of caution by assuming that employees possess a limited command of the English language. Communication that requires a basic understanding of English, devoid of confusing phrases and terminology and structured to reflect the prevailing business practices in a particular country plays a critical role in compliance. Without it, your employees don't know what's expected, and therefore can't comply.