US: Enlightened Employers Promote Worker Communication

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Sun Jul 8 15:43:48 UTC 2007

Enlightened Employers Promote Worker Communication

The English-Only debate rages on. For those in favor of banning
languages, please remember this is not about whether the government
should translate every document into every language. It is not about
what language workers speak. It's not even about whether employers can
require workers to speak English. These are the extreme positions that
often confuse the issues and turn them into a big heap of Jello that
no one can grasp or even hope to solve. Discreet Issue. It's actually
very discreet. Challenging English-Only policies is about employers
not harassing people because they're "not from here" - not banning
entire languages and threatening termination for speaking. Termination
for speaking - that's sick. It's also about not handcuffing the EEOC
in carrying out its statutory duty to enforce Title VII. Tenth Circuit
Ruling: Deference to EEOC. The Tenth Circuit has ruled that an
employer policy prohibiting employees from speaking any language
except English at work could violate Title VII. Although other courts
had rejected EEOC guidelines regarding English-only policies, the
Court in Maldonado v. City of Altus, explained that "it is enough that
the EEOC, based on its expertise and experience, has consistently
concluded that an English-only policy, at least when no business need
for the policy is shown, is likely in itself to 'create an atmosphere
of inferiority, isolation and intimidation' that constitutes a
'discriminatory work environment.'" In Maldonado, the court reversed
summary judgment on Title VII disparate impact and disparate treatment
claims because there was little, if any evidence, of any business
necessity for the policy. Maldonado,,
(10th Cir. 2006). The Policies Themselves As Expressions of Hostility.

According to the Tenth Circuit, the very fact that the City would
forbid Hispanics from using their language could reasonably be
construed as an expression of hostility to Hispanics. At least that
could be a reasonable inference if there was no apparent legitimate
purpose for the restrictions. The Court explained that the less the
apparent justification for mandating English, the more reasonable it
is to infer hostility toward employees whose ethnic group or
nationality favors another language. According to the Tenth Circuit,
the policy itself may create or contribute to the hostility of the
work environment, and not just the effect of the policy in evoking
hostility by co-workers. Here's the analogy the court offered: A
policy requiring each employee to wear a badge noting his or her
religion, for example, might well engender extreme discomfort in a
reasonable employee who belongs to a minority religion, even if no
co-worker utters a word on the matter. Enlightened Employers Promote
Communication. As a preventive measure, many employers easily could
offer a benefit to their workers to offer English classes, Spanish
classes, or other communication enhancers. Those people who are afraid
that "they are talking about 'us' in Spanish" or whatever language,
can learn the language and get through their personal fears. Note that
many employers offer gym memberships, pet insurance, and myriad
benefits and other kinds of training programs. Enforce Anti-Harassment
Policies. Or for those employers who can't afford to offer additional
(or any) benefits - here's a big step in the right direction. Simply
enforce the anti-harassment policies promised in the handbooks.
Copyright, 2007 (c). Kimberlie K. Ryan, All Rights Reserved.
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