Prevent training misfires with follow-up

As a progressive HR professional, you probably believe training can dramatically improve organizational performance. You work hard to put together compelling presentations that help prevent discrimination, harassment and other legal woes. You train supervisors how to use company policies to promote efficiency, improve service and support business goals.

Guess what: Training isn’t enough. Without careful follow-up, your training efforts may backfire—badly!

Consider what happened in early May at Albertsons, the national grocery store chain. The chain has over 280,000 workers nationwide and operates under a number of brands including Safeway and Vons.

The EEOC filed suit in San Diego, alleging that some Albertsons managers told Hispanic workers they couldn’t speak Spanish anywhere on the premises, either during working hours or when they were on breaks.

This, the EEOC suit alleges, amounted to national origin discrimination, especially since a particular language—Spanish—was singled out for censorship.

Apparently, the trouble started in 2012 when the company had managers watch a training video that instructed them to tell employees not to speak Spanish when non-Spanish speakers were present. The policy was designed to promote customer service.

At least one manager in San Diego interpreted this to mean that no one was allowed to speak Spanish anywhere. That manager then publicly reprimanded two employees caught conversing in Spanish with a Spanish-speaking customer.

They complained to the company hotline as well as their union. Albertsons allegedly ignored their complaints. Even the union rep told one of the employees she needed to speak English now that she was “living in the United States.”

When conciliation efforts failed, the EEOC filed its lawsuit.

It’s quite likely this case will be settled without a trial. However, lots of time, money, aggravation and embarrassment could have been avoided if Albertsons had periodically checked back in with its supervisors.

A simple email sent to managers could have asked: Are you clear on exactly when employees are and are not allowed to speak a language other than English at work?