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Your Employee Matters


By July 1, 2009No Comments

Blanket English-only policies are often found to be discriminatory. A case in point is the recent settlement agreement between the EEOC and an employer that enforced an English-only rule solely against Hispanics.

In EEOC v. Royalwood Care Center LLC, a Spanish-speaking janitor brought a charge of discrimination against the nursing home after he had been fired for violating the company’s English-only policy. Under the employer’s policy, employees were prohibited from speaking Spanish with Spanish-speaking residents of the assisted living facilities. Further, employees were disciplined for speaking Spanish in parking lots while on breaks.

The company’s policy was not enforced, however, with respect to a good portion of Filipino employees who spoke Tagalog. Instead, the company’s English-only rule was implemented essentially as a no-Spanish rule.

The EEOC has provided guidance on circumstances in which business reasons would justify an English-only rule. Although there’s no precise test for making this evaluation, relevant considerations include safety concerns and communication concerns with English-speaking customers.

Before adopting an English-only rule, consider whether there are any alternatives that would be as effective in promoting safety or efficiency. Also make sure to:

  • Ensure that the policy on languages spoken in the workplace is applied equally to all persons, regardless of national origin or language spoken.
  • Revise training and other policies, especially those on discrimination, to include versions in other languages for limited-English employees.
  • Provide opportunities for the claimants to obtain English proficiency training.
  • Designate an area in each facility where employees may speak in languages other than English.
  • Permit employees to speak their primary languages to customers or patients who speak those languages.