Do English-only workplaces discriminate?

Are English-only workplace policies discrimination? An article on SHRM today examines the issue.

Many U.S. employers support English-only rules as a way to ensure good employee relations and a safe work environment. But recently such rules have become a political lightning rod.

Some employee advocates have accused employers of enacting English-only policies to discriminate against immigrants.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces federal rules associated with this issue. The Commission allows U.S. employers to require English in the workplace, but the policy can not be in response to a certain group and must be for a specific business-related reason.

“Prohibiting people from speaking their primary language at all times can create an atmosphere of intimidation and inferiority,” according to an EEOC spokesman.

The article points out situations that would justify an English-only rule:
  • Communications with customers, co-workers or supervisors who speak only English.
  • Emergencies or other situations in which workers must speak a common language to promote safety.
  • Cooperative work assignments in which the English-only rule is needed to promote efficiency.
  • To enable a supervisor who speaks only English to monitor the performance of an employee whose job duties require communication with co-workers or customers.
The EEOC recommends that before employers adopt an English-only rule, weigh business justifications against all possible discriminatory effects of the rule.

Does your company have a workplace language policy? Do you think English-only policies are discriminatory or unfair?

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