How To Help ESL Employees Understand Company Benefits

Last Updated on February 22, 2022 by Estrella

How to help ESL employees understand company benefits
How to help ESL employees understand company benefits. Photo by Sarah Pflug from Burst.

Not long ago, I heard a story that reminds me of how important it is for employees whose native language is not English to understand company benefits. I used to go to the same gas station, so I became acquainted with two of the employees there who came to the U.S. about 10 years ago. When the station closed due to neighborhood development, these two had to look for other employment. Other gas stations already had enough staff, so they could not transfer within the company. It was during this process that they discovered they could have signed up for 401K many years ago. But they did not know about the benefits offered by companies when they moved to this country, and their English was not fluent enough to understand the benefit package. In this article, I’ll share a couple of ideas on how to help ESL employees understand company benefits.

Helping ESL employees understand benefits

Cultural factors

Since employee benefits may be different in other countries, it is a good idea to make sure that ESL employees understand the fine print in their benefit package. Some may be uncomfortable reaching out to HR for clarification. Maybe it’s cultural, maybe it’s not feeling confident with their English to have this conversation. Whatever the reason, it would be helpful if HR reaches out to these employees.

For example, the HR manager of one manufacturing company noticed that some ESL employees were coming to her with questions about the employee handbook. The English was complicated for them. And she found that certain topics came up again and again.

Q&A sessions for ESL employees

Since I was teaching a customized ESL program for that company at the time, the HR manager came to me for help. I suggested that we provide a Q&A session during an ESL class, and have her come in to answer those questions more thoroughly. I helped to paraphrase her answers into simple English. And because I was not shy about asking for more clarification, those employees “felt” the permission to ask for further explanations when the answer did not address their question.

Feeling ease with asking questions

This “feeling of permission” is significant. In some cultures, pushing for clarifications may be perceived as impolite. And since employees do not want to jeopardize their relationship with the employer, they may choose to not get a thorough response than to negatively affect that relationship. So by watching how easy it is for me to keep asking for clarification, and by observing that the HR manager was not offended at all, the employees in that class started behaving differently when they go to HR for answers.

Rewrite handbooks in simple English

Ahead of the time, this HR manager went a step further. She asked me to go over the entire employee handbook, and revise the English so that it’s easier to understand.

Actually, another company took this idea even further. Some employees were working on products that required certification tests first. Some of the ESL employees were not passing the written tests because of the English used in the questions, even though they have the skills to do the work. So, the company asked me to revise the tests to make sure the English is easy to understand.

The employees who had trouble passing the written tests before are now able to pass them. And not only the ESL employees, but also some native English speakers. The instructor of the certification class also started using simpler English as a result of seeing the higher scores. She also started checking in with some of the ESL employees to make sure her explanations were clear to them.


So, these are a couple of ideas on how to make sure your ESL employees are understanding their benefits. Ask someone in-house to take extra time to explain the benefit package to them. Or outsource it to an ESL instructor. Consider having the employee handbook written in simpler English. This can benefit not only your ESL employees, but also some native English speakers.

If you find this article helpful, here is one on How to facilitate meetings with international colleagues.

Estrella Chan coaches immigrants and international professionals in English fluency, interview skills, and public speaking.    To schedule a session with her, please email

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