English Only Workplace Rule: No Esta Bien
November 12, 2019 | Lizanne Foley
An employer who insisted on a broad, English only workplace rule will pay over $2.6 million to a group of aggrieved workers. The EEOC is not a fan of these rules and the facts of this case did not help: Banning any Spanish spoken on site and calling Spanish a foul language. The supervisor also demoted and terminated Hispanic employees and replaced them with non-Hispanic employees. Yeah, not cool.
Even the worst facts can provide some valuable tidbits. First, you can shake your head and think: “Wow I am so much better (smarter, cooler) than that!” Then you can peel back the ruling to find out where the EEOC stands on this issue. Policies directing only English all the time are discriminatory– that is clear. When mandating English as a workplace language, the employer must provide advance notice of the rule and show that it is justified by business necessity. The rule can apply, for example, in emergencies or situations where a common language will promote safety. Please note that English only rules for customer interaction may not rise to that level. Finally, employees must be allowed to speak their language during breaks and in a lunch room setting.
Language discrimination claims are part of national origin discrimination, which is on the rise. If you believe your workplace would benefit from a language policy, it must be narrowly tailored to survive a discrimination claim. Contact us. We can help. (Podemos ayudarle.)*
*Apologies to actual Spanish speakers for my Spanglish
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