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.