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HR Question of the Week – November 15, 2014

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Question:

We have some employees who regularly converse in their native Spanish language. This creates an issue because other employees are worried they are being talked about but can’t understand it. How should we handle this?

Answer:

Employees have the right to use their preferred language in their personal conversations that takes place in the workplace. Restrictions on foreign languages for personal workplace communications usually lead to claims of national origin discrimination. A lack of business justification for language restrictions will most likely be non-compliant.

The Civil Rights Act or Title VII allows employers to adopt the English-only rules under a limited number of circumstances. Just like any other workplace policy, an English-only rule has to be used for nondiscriminatory reasons. An English-only rule would be prohibited if it were adopted with the intent to discriminate based on national origin. A policy that prohibits some but not all foreign languages from being spoken in a workplace would be unlawful. An employer can restrict language for regular communications with customers, coworkers, or supervisors who only speak English, for example, or in situations where workers must speak a common language to promote safety.

In this instance, the employees may just have misunderstood the context or subject conversation of the other employees having a personal conversation in Spanish. For these reasons, we recommend that employers handle it on a case by case basis rather than placing a general prohibition on language. If employees feel they are being bullied or harassed by others in another language it should be looked into and managed according to your policies. If a particular employee is being left out of work conversations then the matter may require additional investigation, constructive conversations or mediation with the employees involved.

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

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