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Trust Me, I am from the United States

In his keynote speech at the International Bar Association meetings in D.C., the U.S. Trade Ambassador, Robert Holleyman, made a passionate defense of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Trade Agreement (TPP) as a mechanism that will build trust between the U.S. and the other 11 countries in the TPP. While it is not clear that the TPP will ever obtain the required congressional support, the success of American companies doing business abroad will depend on those companies building trust with their employees in those countries.

I have often heard employees outside the U.S. express a lack of trust in their U.S.-based management. There is often a perception by these employees that U.S. management does not fully understand the culture or legal environment of the local jurisdiction. This perception is often triggered by an effort to implement U.S. legal principles outside the U.S. For example, employees may chafe at companies trying to apply the at-will employment doctrine, which is almost universal in the U.S. but very rare elsewhere. Another example is anonymous-complaint procedures, which are used frequently in the U.S. In other countries, including India, such procedures are useless, because an employer cannot act on an anonymous complaint. But a balance still needs to be struck in such countries, or else local employees may feel forgotten.

To build trust between employees in non-U.S. locations and U.S.-based management, first, do your homework on the applicable laws and customs of the locale. Do not be the “ugly American” who assumes the rest of the world does or should operate as the U.S. does. Consider visiting that location to get a sense for these issues. Do not assume you know how it works around the world without getting proper advice. Establishing clear mechanisms for employees abroad to raise concerns to U.S.-based management is also an important step to take. Finally, make sure you respond to concerns raised by these employees with a proper investigation, appropriate remedies, and clear communications back to the employees who raised the concerns. Remember that English may not be the proper language for such communications and to plan accordingly.

The world is concerned about whether the U.S. government can be trusted to fulfill its obligations under negotiated treaties. Don’t let this trust issue bleed over into your relationships with employees outside the U.S.

This information is provided by Vinson & Elkins LLP for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended, nor should it be construed, as legal advice.