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Dump strict language policy; EEOC cracks down

by on
in HR Management,Human Resources

If your company requires employees to speak English at all times (even lunch hours and breaks), drop that policy now. Such broad English-only rules violate Title VII.

And even if your policy requires em-ployees to speak English only during work hours or in front of customers, make sure the policy is justified by a "business necessity," which almost always revolves around safety or efficiency. If you can't point to a business necessity, drop the policy.

Don't think the EEOC won't notice. National-origin filings based on English-only rules have skyrocketed 600 percent since 1996, the first year such records were kept.

Recent example: As part of an EEOC settlement, Colorado Central Station Casino Inc. must pay $1.5 million to a group of Hispanic housekeepers. The casino must also provide anti-bias training and drop its broad English-only policy.

The casino's HR director appeared directly at fault. She instructed supervisors to implement the blanket policy. House-keepers were told that English was the casino's official language and that Spanish no longer could be spoken. If managers caught employees speaking Spanish, they'd shout "English, English, English."

The casino defended the policy, saying a non-Spanish-speaking employee thought other employees were gossiping about her in Spanish. The casino also tried to prove it had safety reasons. But the EEOC didn't buy either argument.

Note: An English-only rule would probably be legal on, say, an oil rig where workers must communicate quickly and respond to emergencies. But it would likely be illegal if a retailer requires English because customers objected to employees' speaking Spanish among themselves.

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