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English-Only Policies in the Workplace

Question:

My manager is upset because his employees are speaking another language in front of him and he is unable to understand what they are saying.  He wants me to write a English-only policy for the department and I am not comfortable with that.  Is there a legal basis to help back me up to not write this policy?

Answer:

Yes there is!  There are a few instances in which an employer can require employees to only speak English in the workplace, but justification cannot be because the manager feels “left out of the conversation”.  It is possible IF the manager needs to be able to communicate and exchange conversation for completing work, but one must do that with caution.  

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission webpage Immigrants’ Employment Rights Under Federal Anti-Discrimination Laws deals with this topic directly.  In short, according to the EEOC, English-only workplace rules can only be upheld if the company can show business necessity.  For example, if for safety reasons it is imperative that everyone speak the same language – this could be justified.  Other examples when it may be justified to create an English-only rule would be when the individual needs to communicate with others (customers, coworkers, and supervisors) who only speak English and/or for cooperative work assignments when one common language is essential to complete the work effectively and efficiently.

We recommend before jumping into something like this, look at the entire situation.  What is the cause of the issues and can it be solved in another way?  If an English-only policy appears to be required in your workplace, do keep in mind that the EEOC states that a rule requiring employees to speak only English in the workplace at all times, even during lunches and breaks, would rarely be justified.

 

We’ve never heard employees complain that their employer communicates “too much”. Communication is the backbone of a satisfied and productive workforce. However, providing adequate communication to a diverse group of employees who may require differing forms of communication isn’t always easy. Strategic HR, inc. has years of experience creating written communication for employees – including employee newsletters. Visit our Communications page to learn how we can assist you with various communication-based projects.