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Prepare to show solid business reasons for English-Only policies

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The EEOC has recently stepped up efforts to combat national-origin discrimination. Because the agency had concluded that speaking another primary language such as Spanish may disadvantage some employees, it’s pushing for a tight limit to when employers can enforce so-called English-only rules.

The EEOC says requiring workers to speak only English at all times may be a form of national-origin discrimination and will rarely be judged a business necessity. Under some circumstances, however, employers may require employees to speak English at appropriate times. Employers must be prepared to show a solid reason for the rule, preferably one that is safety related.

Recent case: The EEOC sued when Juan Rodriguez-Perez, a Hispanic male of Cuban national origin, was fired from his roofer’s-apprentice job because his English was hard to understand. It alleged the company where Rodriguez-Perez was training had an illegal English-only rule in place and that enforcing the rule amounted to national-origin discrimination.

The court agreed the case could go forward, reasoning that it was up to a jury to decide whether the company had a good business-necessity defense or simply used the English-only rule to get rid of Hispanics. (EEOC v. Spring Sheet Metal and Roofing, No. 05-CV-6495, WD NY, 2007)

Take note: The EEOC also says discriminating against someone with a heavy foreign accent may be national-origin discrimination.  

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