What is international employment law?

International employment law

International employment law refers to the regulations applied by private and public sectors regarding the rights and duties of employers, employees, unions, and governments in the workplace.

With advancements in technology, more organizations have been able to expand across borders and recruit diverse talent from other countries. Expanding hiring territories can fuel business growth by bringing in new skills and perspectives. But as companies seek to branch out internationally, understanding international labor and employment laws becomes critical to operating legally across borders.

Interested in Oyster but want more information about how the platform works? This product overview should help.

What’s covered under international employment laws?

International employment laws and regulations encompass all the rules applicable to different countries, as well as comparisons of laws between different territories. These standards are put in place to protect employees’ best interests, support job security, and improve employment overall.

To oversee global employment, international law is regulated by the United Nations (U.N.) through an agency known as the International Labour Organization. This regulatory body sets standards in 187 member territories with the goal of joining workers, employers, and governments to advance social justice and promote decent work. Member nations agree upon the organization’s terms and must then adopt and implement the regulations as part of their local laws.

Under this sweeping international law, the agency regulates employment in great detail. Here’s a high-level overview of some of their policy goals:

  • To prohibit child labor
  • To prohibit forced or compulsory labor
  • To prohibit discrimination at work
  • To ensure the right to collective bargaining, including the ability to join unions

What are some common international employment law issues?

Aside from the policies outlined by the International Labour Organization, there are also regional labor standards which are a form of international employment law. For instance, European labor law applies to all territories within the European Union (EU) and covers rights such as:

  • Prohibition of workplace discrimination
  • A minimum of four weeks’ annual leave for employees
  • A written employment contract, either fixed-term or indefinite
  • The ability to move freely across states in the EU

Likewise, the U.S., Canada, and Mexico have their own labor standards, which are outlined in the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation. These regulations cover:

  • Workers’ compensation
  • Protection for migrant workers
  • Equal pay for equal work
  • The right to collective bargaining and strikes
  • Prohibition of child labor
  • Health and safety standards

No matter which country your organization is headquartered in, it’s essential that you comply with local labor laws for every nation in which you do business. This means that you may not only have to be aware of international employment laws regulated by the U.N., but also regional policies. In addition, there are some general principles that apply in many territories.


In some areas, employers are obligated to contribute to health insurance, retirement plans, workers’ compensation, and unemployment insurance.

Minimum wage

Certain territories, such as the U.S., Canada, France, Ireland, and Australia (among others), have a minimum wage requirement. Companies seeking to expand into these territories must ensure they’re paying at a rate that complies with these policies, even for independent contractors.

Employee contracts

Many nations also have laws that require written employment contracts to define the terms of employment. Such agreements may outline the details of an employee’s job description, working hours, pay, and time off.


Employee termination policies vary from one territory to the next. In the U.S., employers can terminate workers “at will,” but in nations like France, they must have proper cause. In nations with such policies, fair processes must take place when an employee is terminated.


In most countries, employers need to withhold payroll taxes and submit them to the proper authorities. Typically, this is only required for workers who are classified as employees and does not apply to freelancers or other independent contractors.

When it comes to hiring across borders, international employment law is clearly one of the most complex and challenging aspects of workforce management. Yet, it’s also among the most important, as failing to comply with international labor and employment laws can lead to fines, penalties, and reputational damage. For this reason, any company seeking to expand into new territories must be diligent about compliance with all applicable regulations.

About Oyster

Oyster is a global employment platform designed to enable visionary HR leaders to find, hire, pay, manage, develop, and take care of a thriving distributed workforce. Oyster lets growing companies give valued international team members the experience they deserve, without the usual headaches and expense.

Oyster enables hiring anywhere in the world—with reliable, compliant payroll, and great local benefits and perks.