8 Major & Emerging Challenges Facing Global Employers in 2012

We all know we’ll be facing a lot of challenges here in the U.S. as we get deeper into 2012, but what will the challenges be for employers operating on the global stage?

Garry Mathiason, chairman of the board at Littler Mendelson, which describes itself as “the nation’s largest employment and labor law firm representing management,” has some answers. He lists what he considers the eight challenges for global employers, and it’s not surprising what he believes are the greatest threats

“From dangerous workplaces to social media to whistleblowing, the global employment trends we are seeing are a clear reflection of the social and economic times in which we are living,” said Mathiason. “The change in social policy based on a transformed global economy is driving an evolution in the work we do for clients. These trends are an important part of the future of global employment law.”

8 major global trends

You might disagree with this list, but I always find insights like this from smart and engaged people to be worth taking a close look at — and the head of the largest labor law firm representing management certainly fits the bill no matter what side of the negotiating table you may be on.

The eight major and emerging trends Mathiason lists are:

  1. Dangerous workplaces – “Employees are accepting assignments that take them to unsafe places in the world. These assignments are often shorter term, but increasing in frequency. Compliance recommendations include recognizing by country and assignment the continuum of threats, and establishing centralized policies and multi-disciplinary teams to respond.”
  2. Social media and global privacy – “The line between one’s work life and private life has been permanently blurred by technology. Laws permitting background checks using social media are changing the landscape of employment law and differ substantially between countries. Employers need vetted global privacy policies that also recognize the inevitability that personal smart phones and tablets will increasingly be used in business. Employers also need to consider how they will retrieve business information after an employee leaves as this information can be housed in a social media channel. For example, decide whether LinkedIn profiles are the property of an individual employee’s company.”
  3. Whistleblowing and overcoming corruption are a business priority – “Worldwide governments are providing incentives for whistleblowers and promoting a business culture that embraces and protects whistleblowers. Whistleblowers have emerged as ethical heroes and this new culture is embodied in the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, the U.K. Bribery Act and a recent push in Europe to strengthen whistleblower protections.”
  4. The new face of discrimination – “New trends in discrimination include migrant and social origin discrimination globally. Employers also need to be aware of discrimination liability related to economic adversity and discrimination against the unemployed. Within the U.S., states are starting to adopt statutes protective of the unemployed and the EEOC has flagged the potential link between current civil rights laws and the disparate impact of unemployment discrimination. Outside of the U.S., unemployment discrimination may be considered a form of social origin discrimination.”
  5. Third party funding of litigation – “Whistleblowers are proving to be a new market in which hedge funds are investing. Employers should monitor institutional funding entitles for divisions supporting litigation funding — and express opinions. Employers should also consider this developing trend when assessing ROI on compliance programs.”
  6. Global mobility – “Related to the arbitration trend below, employment contracts are critical to global mobility. A confluence of demographic trends, including the fact that some countries have as high as 70 percent expatriates or migrants in their workforce, and the increasing popularity of short-term assignments require employers to consider a number of issues. Those issues could range from tax issues in advance of an overseas assignment to bringing an employee to his other home country before termination.”
  7. Rise of the contingent workforce worldwide – “This trend is an economic certainty and presents multiple employment law compliance issues ranging from joint employer liability to compliance with globally different wage and benefit statutes. Employers should identify their contingent workers including independent contractors, who are under classification scrutiny by revenue-hungry taxing authorities worldwide. Expanding compliance systems to encompass the growing contingent workforce is essential.”
  8. Global arbitration and the rise of soft law – “Employment arbitration agreements have been a key topic before the U.S. Supreme Court in 2010 and 2011. International enforcement of arbitration agreements is on the rise but legal requirements differ. Increasingly, HR standards are being harmonized worldwide through framework agreements and conventions. This ‘soft law’ approach to regulations represents multiple employment law challenges at the same time it promotes greater uniformity of working conditions and global management.”

A few more trends to consider

Some additional global employment trends that didn’t make this list but are on the agenda at Littler’s Global Employer Institute in Washington, D.C. include:

Article Continues Below
  • The globalization of workplace bullying laws;
  • Executive compensation regulations in the European Union versus the U.S.;
  • The increasing role of employment and labor law in Africa; and,
  • Emerging employment law and issues in China.

These are interesting trends and issues to keep an eye on, and with over 850 attorneys and 55 offices, Littler Mendelson, as the the largest U.S.-based law firm exclusively devoted to representing management in employment and labor law matters, is in a good position to track where these are all going here in 2012.

Here’s a video of Mathiason talking about these trends at the annual Global Employer Conference in Washington, D.C.


John Hollon is managing editor of Fuel50, an AI Opportunity Marketplace solution that delivers internal talent mobility and workforce reskilling. He's also the former founding editor of TLNT and a frequent contributor to ERE and the Fistful of Talent blog.