[lg policy] English-only workplace rules: both discriminatory and disengaging?

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at gmail.com
Sat Aug 11 12:06:09 EDT 2018


 English-only workplace rules: both discriminatory and disengaging?

Employers are increasingly finding themselves in the news or in court
defending English-only policies. Do these rules ever have a place at work?
Author
Riia O'Donnell <https://www.hrdive.com/editors/rodonnell/>
Published Aug. 9, 2018
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English-only rules in the workplace have garnered a bit of attention of
late, both in the media and in the courtroom.

Most recently, a Baltimore Dunkin’ Donuts responded to social media
pressure, removing a sign asking customers to report
<https://wgntv.com/2018/06/20/dunkin-donuts-shop-removes-sign-asking-customers-to-report-employees-not-speaking-english/>
employees
“shouting in a language other than English” to management. In exchange, the
customers were promised a coupon for free coffee and a pastry.

And while employers may have several reasons for wanting employees to be *able
*to speak English, there are instances in which English-only policies may
be discriminatory, experts say.
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*When is English-only acceptable?*

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's Enforcement Guidance on
<http://www.eeoc.gov/laws/guidance/national-origin-guidance.cfm>National
Origin Discrimination
<https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/guidance/national-origin-guidance.cfm> gives
employers insight into when, and if, English-only rules can be adopted.
While a blanket policy to use only English will often be considered
discriminatory, it can be used in certain circumstances. Specific
conditions have to be met, however, to make the rule legitimate, the agency
said.

Such a rule is permissible when an employer provides advance notice of the
rule and can show that it is justified by business necessity. At the
federal level, "business necessity" can include communicating with
customers, coworkers or supervisors who only speak English, Michael
Studenka, partner at Newmeyer & Dillion LLP, told HR Dive via email.
Likewise, it can apply in emergencies or situations where a common language
will promote safety; for cooperative assignments to promote efficiency; and
to enable supervisors who only speak English to monitor performance of
employees whose jobs require communicating with coworkers or customers.

But even then, employers who adopt these policies should be sensitive to
the needs of staff members, Studenka said. "This is all part of respecting
diversity in the workplace," he explained; "It should be raised in any
diversity training, especially with managers so that they avoid unknowingly
overstepping here, for example, telling an employee on break in the kitchen
that he must speak English."

Any English-only rule should be narrowly drawn and closely tethered to
interests of safety and efficiency, he said. It should apply only to
specific times and situations and must be clearly communicated and apply to
all employees. For situations and jobs that don’t require it, there should
be no such rule, nor retaliation against employees who communicate with
coworkers in another language.

Randi Kochman, chair of the Employment Law Department at Cole Schotz,
offered similar advice: "An employer considering adopting an English-only
policy should consider the business need for the policy and draft a policy
that is narrowly tailored to meet those needs," she said. "The policy
should not apply to off-duty conduct and the company should ensure that it
is enforced fairly and consistently."


-- 
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 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com
http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/~haroldfs/

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