British Columbia, Canada: North Vancouver seniors' home employees forbidden from speaking any language but English while at work

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Sun Oct 19 20:43:17 UTC 2008

Evergreen issues 'English only'
Home's employees warned of 'harassment'
Bethany Lindsay, North Shore News

EMPLOYEES at a North Vancouver seniors' home have been forbidden from
speaking any language but English while at work, according to a memo
circulated by management. However, a spokesman for the B.C. Human
Rights Coalition said that policy could be in violation of the Human
Rights Code. According to the memo sent out to all employees of
Evergreen House, "all EGH employees are expected to speak English for
the duration of every shift." Employees are not allowed to speak other
languages at any point during the working day, whether or not they're
in the presence of patients.

The memo goes on to caution that, "speaking a different language
excludes others. Verbal conduct that excludes, threatens or
intimidates is harassment." Evergreen manager Sarah Jordan said that
the memo has been revised since it was originally sent out on Oct. 6.
The original memo specifically targeted Filipino workers in a section
giving advice on how an employee could address coworkers speaking
foreign languages:

"I noticed that you were speaking Tagalog. We are expected to speak
English at work. Please wait until after work to speak your language."
Jordan said the wording has now been changed to "I noticed that you
were not speaking English." Another section that required employees to
speak English even on their breaks has also been removed from the
memo. Although the harassment policy of Vancouver Coastal Health does
not include speaking non-English languages, the health authority
supports the spirit of the Evergreen memo.

"It's not a harassment issue. It's a respectful workplace issue," said
spokeswoman Anna Marie D'Angelo. "Everybody sort of needs to speak the
same language, in order to make sure that you're communicating
properly and everyone knows what's going on. It's a patient safety
issue." D'Angelo said that language is particularly important at
facilities like Evergreen, where many patients have cognitive problems
including Alzheimer's and dementia. She said listening to their care
workers speaking foreign languages could make those patients' lives
even more confusing.

Language barriers can also affect relationships between staff members,
D'Angelo continued. "If you don't speak the foreign language that's
being spoken, you feel left out. Some people start to get paranoid and
that sort of stuff." Both patients and staff at Evergreen have been
complaining for more than a year about staff speaking non-English
languages, D'Angelo said. Speakers were brought in to explain and
reinforce the English-only policy, but apparently the situation has
not changed. D'Angelo did not elaborate on the consequences for staff
members who continue to speak other languages at work, but did say
that, "when they first got their jobs, it was explained to them that
it would be English in the workplace."

But Robyn Burling, communications co-ordinator for the B.C. Human
Rights Coalition, said that English-only requirements could violate
the Human Rights Code. "If it doesn't interfere with the business
operation, two people talking to each other in their own language that
is not intended in any way to exclude other people, that should not be
stopped," Burling said. In one recent case, he said, the B.C. Human
Rights Tribunal ruled in favour of resort employees who wanted to
speak their native language to each other while they worked.

Burling said that when a group of employees share a common native
tongue, it could sometimes be valuable for them to speak that language
amongst themselves in order to clarify tasks and instructions. "If
they can do it more easily that way, it certainly doesn't interfere
with the business in any way."
However, he cautioned that employees should not speak in foreign
languages with the intention to exclude others. In contrast, D'Angelo
said that VCH is aware of legal rulings that support English-only
regulations for the workplace.

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