The U.S. offers the weakest worker protections, Brazilian employees are entitled to serious severance, the UK's mandatory notice period is the longest. A quick tour of the global pink slip.
TEL AVIV — Losing a job is never a nice experience, but laws in some countries offer departing employees better protection than in others at the moment of truth. For example, employees in the United States can be dismissed without notice or reason, while France and Italy have strict rules that protect employees from arbitrary layoffs. In fact, the prevalent perception in Europe is that employees have the right to keep a job virtually for life.
Accordingly, international companies often find it difficult to adapt to employment regulations in different countries. The way employees can be recruited, and fired, in the U.S., for example, is very different from what is allowed in China. And whereas Brazilian employees are almost always entitled to severance packages, the mandatory notice period in the UK is the longest.
United States: Easy come, easy go
According to the dominant logic in the U.S., employees can be sacked without warning, reason or notice. The few exceptions to this rule have to do with discrimination, conflict resolution, or when an employee is protected by a contract. In most cases, employers have the right to summon an employee, inform them of layoff and expect them to pack their things and leave immediately. Similarly, employees can quit without notice. The U.S. has no laws regarding pay or benefits for departing employees, so it's up to specific companies to decide if and how much they pay.
Italy: slowly but surely
Italy has one of the world's most comprehensive employment regulations. There are many elaborate laws, and most of them are intended to protect workers. For example, dismissing a woman less than a year after her marriage is forbidden, unless she committed a criminal offense such as violence or theft. Even in cases in which a female employee is suspected of inappropriate behavior, the layoff process is long and complex.
In one case, a court ruled that it was the company that enabled an employee to steal and therefore it couldn't fire him. Eventually, the company paid the offending employee a large sum of money to ensure it could be rid of him. The recruitment process can be equally long and cumbersome.
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Photo: J E Theriot
The UK: "gardening leave"
British laws guarantee employees a notice period before they are actually sacked — a week in the first two years of employment, and one additional week for every year of service. For example, an employee working for a company for 10 years would get a nine-week notice. An employer can demand a worker leave immediately, but in that case the notice period would still have to be paid, a practice known as "gardening leave," implying that employees are paid but do not have to do their work.
France: preventing mass layoffs
In France, firing an employee requires the employer to cite substantial and true financial or professional reasons, and at least one week notice. When a company fires 10 workers within a period of 30 days, it is obliged to carry out an "employment safeguard plan" to save as many jobs as possible. Collective layoff of 100 or more employees must be reported to state authorities, and the dismissal can only take effect after 30 days. Severance pay in France stands at a minimum of 20% of the monthly wage for every year of employment, and at least 33% of the salary when a workers has more than 10 years of service.
Israel: prior notice and severance pay
Israeli law requires a hearing before an employee can be dismissed, as well as prior notice and severance pay. Employees in Israel are entitled to notice of between one and 30 days, depending on their length of service. The notice period can be forgone, but the employee would still be entitled to pay for that period. Workers are entitled to severance pay only if they've completed one year of employment, and the extent of the pay is calculated based on the last monthly salary and a single month pay for each year with the company.
Brazil: Show me the money
Laying off workers in Brazil can be an expensive undertaking. Employers aren't required to cite a reason for dismissal, but laws about severance packages are rather strict. The formula includes monthly wages and pay for days off and sick leave, and is based on the period of employment. Employers can be released from mandatory severance if they can prove the reason for the layoff involves an offense, such as theft. But employers generally prefer to avoid layoff for cause and instead offer severance because courts often side with employees.
China: gently but intently
Employment regulations in communist China are meant to guarantee workers' rights. Therefore, dismissals are difficult, and courts can overturn them or order that an employee be returned to their position.
In addition, Chinese culture dictates sensitivity when firing an employee and maintaining his or her dignity. A company would suffer serious damage to its reputation if were perceived as mistreating its workers and carelessly firing them. Similarly, the most successful companies in China are those who understand the local culture and respect it.