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Tell managers: Don’t require employees to speak English

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Employment Law,Human Resources

Warn managers and supervisors: It’s dangerous to demand that employees speak English at work!

The EEOC sees restrictive English-only policies as possible national origin discrimination. What’s more, the National Labor Relations Board views such policies as possible unfair labor practices if the restriction limits the ability of employees to discuss work conditions.

Unless you have a legitimate business-related reason for demanding the use of English, tell managers and supervisors not to insist that employees use English, and not even to comment on their use of another language. Harsh enforcement of language bans may be indirect evidence of discrimination.

Recent case: Monica Goitia worked as a child-protective officer for the Florida Department of Children and Families. Goitia, who was born in Puerto Rico and spoke Spanish in addition to English, had almost immediate problems with her supervisor.

She claimed that the supervisor often yelled, reducing her to tears. Once, the supervisor interrupted Goitia while she was speaking Spanish on the phone, demanding that she speak English so the supervisor could understand her. Another time, the supervisor said, “I told you not to talk Spanish because we are in the United States.”

Goitia was fired before the end of her probationary period because she failed a test case she had been assigned to analyze. She then sued, alleging national origin discrimination.

The court said the demand that Goitia speak English wasn’t direct evidence of national origin discrimination, but could be circumstantial evidence. But the employer had a legitimate, objective reason for discharge to fall back on: Goitia’s failed test. The case was dismissed. (Goitia v. State of Florida, No. 6:06-CV-6, MD FL, 2007) 

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