11 Shocking Labor Laws from around the World

labor laws

In honor of Labor Day, we’ve gathered the best and weirdest labor laws from across the globe.

Labor Day is here! Many Americans treasure this well-earned three-day weekend as their final summer break. Labor Day celebrates the work we do all year, and when Tuesday hits and it’s time to get back to work, some of us may be happy about it while others lament returning to the grind.

Working in another country could be better, or it could be a tad weird, depending on your feelings about said country’s labor laws. Here are 12 labor laws from around the world that will make you rethink how things are done in the United States, for better or worse.

1. Waistline Watching

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Wellness Corporate Solutions / Flickr

Extra pounds around your middle likely won’t affect your job status in the United States. In Japan, though, you could be in trouble. For employees aged 40 to 75, the country has a maximum waistline size law. At an annual medical exam, waists are measured along with other important health factors, such as blood pressure and cholesterol. If an employee is “metabo,” or overweight, they must undergo mandatory medical weight loss.

2. Vacation Days Aplenty

In the United States, the federal government doesn’t require employers to provide employees with vacation time or paid time off (PTO). While most employers do provide these, the amount pales in comparison to what’s required by law in many other countries. Getting excited about a three-day weekend is great, but five weeks of vacation time sounds much better — it’s what Austrians can get, plus 13 holidays. And employees on the picturesque islands of Malta and Mauritius vacation 38 days a year. From Europe to Asia, Africa, the Middle East and beyond, vacation is mandatory and plentiful — the United States seriously needs to catch up.

3. Naps Are Welcome

If you fall asleep on the job, it could get you fired. But in Japan, napping is considered a common and culturally accepted practice — in public or in the office. If you’re in need of a snooze, you must be a diligent worker. It’s called “inemuri,” meaning sleeping while present. So if an employee dozes off during a meeting, they’re still considered present. In fact, having work-related exhaustion but still managing to attend a meeting shows you are responsible and willing to make a sacrifice, which can get you promoted. You just have to doze upright.

4. Don’t Call It Women’s Work

When you think of labor, it’s likely in the context of the workplace — the job you do to bring home the bacon. A great deal of labor takes place in the home, too, though (just ask any stay-at-home parent). In the United States, labor laws don’t state that members of a family have to help out with chores. In Spain, it’s required (for men at least). An addendum to Spanish marriage contracts used in civil ceremonies states that husbands have to help with household duties and care for children and elderly family members. Well done, Spain!

5. No Men Allowed


In Saudi Arabia you won’t find men selling ladies’ undergarments. To protect modesty and make women comfortable, only women can sell intimate garments. While you may cry foul on ostracizing men, remember that the law in Saudi Arabia puts many limitations on women. In fact, women were given the right to drive only recently, in June of 2018. In this context, women benefit from the privacy, agency and financial independence this work provides.

6. A Seat at the Table


Denmark consistently ranks high in overall quality of life and employee satisfaction, and there’s a labor law that makes the country even better: A company with over 35 employees must give seats on its board to regular nonmanagement employees. They have the same rights and powers as the top brass, even if their title doesn’t have an acronym. I sure hope participating Danes sing out “Power to the People” while biking to work each day, especially when there’s a board meeting on the schedule.

7. Workweek Labor Laws


For most workers in the United States, a job is never just a nine-to-five gig. We work long hours, and we’re tired. The lawmakers of the Netherlands understand that work is tiring and therefore cap the workweek at 45 hours; plus, employees cannot work more than nine hours in a day. Brazil has a similar requirement, with a maximum workweek of 44 hours and no more than two hours of overtime allowed per day.

8. The 13th-Month Bonus

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Pictures of Money / Flickr

For Filipinos, a yearly salary isn’t on a 12-month calendar — they have a 13th-month bonus! As long as an employee in the Philippines works at least one month in a year, they’re eligible. It is, of course, calculated based on the amount of time worked and at one-12th of the employee’s annual salary. And it’s in addition to any voluntary end-of-year bonus that may have been given.

9. Take a Career Break

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Mark Fischer / Flickr

Belgium understands the need for a work-life balance. Its social security system allows an employee to put their career on hold for one year during their working life. The year may be taken all at once or in smaller periods. The best part: Career breaks are paid, and the employee’s place in the company is secured for when they return. There is no rule as to what the employee must do during their break. Travel the world, sleep all day every day, or just stare at the ceiling — it’s completely up to them.

10. Firing Is Not an Option


Labor laws often protect employees from wrongful termination. In Portugal, employers likely don’t enjoy the fact that it’s illegal to fire an employee. Instead, they must offer the employee resignation benefits and hope they accept the terms. Imagine the negotiation possibilities, and consider just how long it will take to Google how to become a citizen of Portugal.

11. Don’t Leave Your Hat On

New Zealanders with a love for funny hats need to keep them out of the workplace. Wearing a funny hat to work could result in a 10% pay cut. The reason: They break the uniform dress code. So if you just can’t work without your favorite two-drink-dispensing hat on your head, or if you’re a member of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, New Zealand is probably not the right place for you.

As you celebrate Labor Day, remember the holiday is more than just the signal to stop wearing white until springtime. Labor laws may vary around the world, but one thing is universal: Workers deserve to be recognized for their hard work throughout the year. The three-day weekend is nice, though, even if a week or more would be better. end


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