HR Question of the Week – January 15, 2015

Question:

Are English-Only Workplace Policies Ever Permissible?

Answer:

Under Title VII of Civil Rights Act, employers may adopt limited English-only rules so long as it is not for discriminatory reasons and there is a legitimate business necessity for such a rule. We recommend being very cautious when requiring workers to speak a certain language in the workplace. You must be able to demonstrate that your language policy is motivated by a true business need and it is limited to that actual need. A poorly written or overly broad policy could open an employer up to discrimination claims.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has created the following rules for implementing an English-only policy:

It is rarely justified to require employees to speak only English at all times, including breaks and lunch periods;
English-only rules should be limited to situations where it is a business necessity, such as with coworkers or customers who only speak English or in assignments and other situations which require a common language for safety and efficiency;
Employees may only be reprimanded for violating the rule after they have been notified of the rule and the consequences of violating it.

If you decide to implement an English-only policy, we recommend making it as narrow as possible for your business needs and being explicit that you are not banning any specific language completely. Additionally, you should have your policy reviewed by an HR Professional and include it in your employee handbook.

Source: HR Support Center | Copyright © 2017 AdvaPay Systems, LLC

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