[lg policy] Whole Foods Softens "English Only" Stance

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Wed Jun 19 14:44:19 UTC 2013

Whole Foods Softens "English Only" Stance

By Steve Symington<http://my.fool.com/profile/tmfsymington/info.aspx?source=iapsitlnk0000002>|
June 18, 2013 | Comments (0)

Following a brief
than two weeks ago regarding its language policy, organic grocery
specialist *Whole Foods Market* (NASDAQ:
Friday officially softened the previous "English-only" stance outlined in
its employee handbook.

*Out with the old...*
The initial incident arose when two Albuquerque workers claimed they were
suspended after complaining about the policy. Whole Foods management, for
their part, stated that the paid, one-day suspensions didn't actually stem
from a violation of the policy, but instead were the result of "rude"
workplace behavior exhibited by the employees.

Even so, co-CEO Walter Robb noted in a company blog
the "unfortunate incident" has provided Whole Foods the opportunity to
revise the language of the policy "which, while in place for years, does
not reflect and is not in alignment with the spirit of this company."

Also in the post, Robb wrote, "On behalf of the Whole Foods Market
Leadership Network ... we sincerely apologize that a section of our
handbook regarding team member interactions in the workplace was not
clearly written, and for any misunderstandings or offense it has created.
Its intention was to foster inclusion, not exclusion."

Sure enough, part of the old policy dictated that English-speaking workers
must speak English to customers and other employees while on the clock,
unless "all present prefer to speak a language other than English."

*...and in with the new*
By contrast, the respective sections of the new policy state:

If you speak English and you need to communicate with an English-speaking
customer, please speak with them in English, unless requested otherwise by
the customer.

When speaking with customers or fellow Team Members, please make sure you
are sensitive to others who may want to join in your conversation or ask
you a question. If needed, switch to a common language to be inclusive and

What's more, similar to the old policy, employees who don't understand
English are asked to inform a "Team Leader so that communications may be
translated" for them.

Finally, Robb noted that Whole Foods has sent the revised policy to both
the New Mexico LULAC and the American Civil Liberties Union for their
feedback, and intends to "continue [having] conversations with these

*Foolish final thoughts
*Seems fair enough; after all, while Whole Foods' original policy certainly
didn't take a hard line to demand all employees speak English at all times,
the company did quickly realize that the words could be misconstrued, and
revised them to reflect that what they say is the true spirit of the policy.

What's more, it also seems fair to give Whole Foods the benefit of the
doubt considering it's one of only 13 companies to appear on
*Fortune*magazine's "100 Best Companies to Work For" every year since
the list's
inception in 1998. In addition, you can bet it's in Whole Foods' best
interest to maintain fair diversity policies, considering it also regularly
appears on *Fortune*'s "Most Diverse" list, with its workforce made up of
44% women and 43% minorities.

But what do you think? Did Whole Foods management do the right thing here,
or was their reaction less than sincere? Feel free to chime in using the
comments section below.

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