Employers that want to limit the use of languages other than English in the workplace take note: Your language restrictions must be reasonable and based on genuine business needs. A simple company preference for English isn’t good enough.
For example, even if you insist employees speak English around customers, don’t try to limit what language employees speak in the break room or behind closed doors.
Recent case: Lydia Garcia, who is Hispanic, lost her job due to budget cutbacks. But she sued, alleging she had been subjected to a hostile work environment. Her proof? She had received a written warning to speak English around clients who were not bilingual and felt uncomfortable when she spoke Spanish.
The court looked at the context and concluded there was no hostile environment. The employer merely restricted the use of Spanish in a mixed-language setting—because some clients couldn’t follow what Garcia was saying in Spanish. The employer never restricted Garcia from speaking Spanish to Spanish-speaking co-workers, at break or in her own office. Plus, although she received a warning, she was never punished for speaking Spanish. (Garcia v. Henry Street Settlement, No. 05-Civ-10188, SD NY, 2007)