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What are the pitfalls of refusing to translate training materials?

by on
in The HR Specialist Forum

Question: “In our business—a nursing home—employees must be able to communicate in a common language: English. Our job descriptions require English proficiency. However, we keep getting requests to translate training materials into Spanish. If we do this, won’t we open a can of worms? Any advice? Should we reconsider our stance on not translating?”—HR Kristy


If you have employees for whom English is a second language, or those who don't speak English well enough to understand the material being presented, you could be in violation of Title VII by not providing training understandable by all employees. Does the training relate to safety? To the way you treat your customers? Are you denying promotional opportunities by not providing the same level of training to all employees?

The only material we paid to translate was our Employee Handbook. We felt that if we were to hold them accountable to it, we had to be sure they could understand it. For other, less significant materials, we use a free translation website to help us, and publish the fact that our English version of that text is the one that is legally binding.

I think the first consideration is why English is required. If there are valid business principles or safety reasons for the English requirement, you may hinder the employee's ability to perform if they are not trained in the language they have to work with. Title VII bars requiring English at all times, in all places, but doesn't limit the requirement for English usage if a bona fide part of the job. If English is a mandatory (and legally defensible) part of the job, then why not train in English? If you are teaching the employee to smile at the customer - teach them in their language. If you are teaching the employee who is going to care for me in a nursing home, I want them to understand and be able to communicate regarding my medical needs in English.

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