Q&A: Sara Khoja: “Implementing local labour laws is a real challenge for employers”

Author: Kirsty Tuxford | Date: 30 March 2016

Clyde & Co's leading advisor on employment issues in the Middle East talks about HR policies for multicultural workforces

Sara KhojaOperating an international organisation in a country with a global workforce requires a real talent for people management. Sara Khoja, a partner in Clyde & Co’s MENA Employment Group, tells People Management about the issues global organisations face when adapting their HR policies to local regulations and cultures.

You advise organisations on how to adapt their HR policies. What are the big issues you’re involved in right now?
Identifying which policies are mandatory and which can be adopted as a matter of best practice are big issues, as well as promoting global integration and the values of an organisation. In many countries, the Ministry of Manpower or Labour will publish model work regulations that are akin to company policies, which employers are expected to adopt. The concern for employers is adapting the work regulations and supplementing them with policies that are comprehensive and globally integrated.

This approach can be challenging with regard to diversity and equal opportunities policies – there may be specific nationality quotas, nationalisation targets or indeed issues in recognising non-traditional unions or marriages – or whistleblowing policies, as anonymity cannot always be guaranteed.

Where do organisations go wrong?
They are keen to be fair and to adopt best practice, which will often mean they mitigate potential risk (for example, when dealing with employment terminations, whether by reason of restructuring, poor performance or misconduct). A desire to follow the policies in place at an HQ in, for example, the US or UK can mean local compliance issues or risks can be overlooked.

How do you help organisations integrate and manage employee relations?
For multinationals, it is increasingly important to promote global integration and to make employees feel they are treated consistently regardless of where in the world they work. This approach helps promote employee mobility and skill sharing across operations. However, it is extremely difficult to achieve while maintaining a balance between increased costs and enhanced staff retention and productivity. The main challenges are not overburdening the organisation with process and procedure.

What are the challenges in implementing HR policy for a multinational workforce?
The large variety of nationalities employed poses a challenge in finding a common cultural benchmark within the organisation. Employers can often struggle with educating employees on what is acceptable or not, and how the policies are to be implemented and followed. While Middle Eastern countries' labour laws have much in common, such as end-of-service gratuity, due process provisions for disciplinary procedures and exhaustive lists of permitted gross misconduct reasons for dismissal, there is also a wide variety of discrepancy with regard to the detail of such provisions. Employers are therefore left with a choice of applying different provisions in each jurisdiction or trying to harmonise so that employees receive comparable benefits across the region.