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English language employment contracts – ok in Austria?

I often hear a similar story from various clients: They usually issue English-language employment contracts to all employees in their international locations. But they are not sure if that is also okay in Austria.

This is what I then answer them: As you may know, German is the official language in Austria. However, general English proficiency in Austria is quite good, especially among the younger workers (which could be partly due to growing up watching Netflix films and series in the original English version?).

If you want to conclude an employment contract (or any other working document) in English with an employee, you can in principle do so in Austria. There is no law in Austria that expressly prohibits you from concluding employment contracts (only) in English.

However, there are a few things to note:

  • Language skills of the individual employees: Do the employees understand English well enough to understand all the mutual rights and obligations arising from the contract? If you should know in advance that this is not the case, you may have to provide them with additional information or even German-language documents.
  • Uniform documentation for all employees: In your HR management, you probably prefer to use the same templates for all employees. Handing out English-language contract versions to employees with sufficient knowledge, and distributing German-language versions to those who don’t, creates inconsistencies that you probably want to prevent.
  • German is the official language in Austria, also in court: In the case of labor law conflicts, it may be necessary to submit a certified translation of English-language documents as proof. Often this need becomes apparent at the worst possible time, and translators charge an additional fee for last-minute translations.

So how do you avoid the occasional need to adapt your templates to new circumstances or struggling to get a last-minute translation for court evidence?

I tend to propose bilingual contract versions to my clients, where the German and English texts are side by side. This allows you to continue to use the same contract language used in your international locations. It also gives you the advantage that any staff with a below-average level of English can understand all parts of the documents. In addition, you have a version that would be accepted as evidence by an Austrian court.

However, there are also some things to consider when creating and using bilingual versions of documents. I will highlight these in another article.

If I can support you in bringing your contract documents to a uniform and legally compliant standard, please contact me.

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