button Vol. 7
No. 5



line Non-union

line Obesity In
The Workplace

line Productivity
Or Push?

line English-only

line Update On
Overtime Rules

line Briefs

Braun Consulting News
News on Personnel, Labor Relations and Benefits

See our Archive Pages for Back Issues of Braun Consulting News!

Human Resources and labor relations English Only Policy Issues

Click here for Top

The increasing diversity of employees and the various languages that they speak is creating a new set of challenges and opportunities for employers.

More than one language being spoken at a job site does not necessarily lead to problems, but can often raise a whole new set of issues that need to be addressed.

Some employers have implemented "English-Only" policies on their job sites, and many others are considering it. In this article we will address some of the issues surrounding English-only policies.

Click here for Top

Checkmark Graphic Some Statistics

  • Out of about 9,000 claims of national-origin discrimination in 2003 the EEOC received 228 charges challenging English-only policies in the workplace.

  • The U.S. Census Bureau reports that the number of Americans who speak English poorly or not at all has increased 65 percent since 1990 as immigration rates rise.

  • 2.3 million new immigrant workers have joined America's work force since 2000.

  • In the year 2000, approximately 45 million Americans spoke a language other than English in the home. This is 17.5 percent of the population.

  • In 2000, approximately 10.3 million individuals (4.1 percent of the total population) spoke little or no English, an increase from 6.7 million in the year 1990.

Click here for Top

Checkmark Graphic Some English-Only Considerations

    Checkmark graphic English-only can unite rather than divide.

    Some say English-only rules can unite and protect people of different origins in the workplace.

    Mauro E. Mujica is CEO of U.S. English, a citizen's action group with 1.7 million members whose lobbying efforts include petitioning the U.S. government to make English the official language of the United States.

    Mujica is an immigrant himself, and believes that English-only policies "encourage communication and prevent people from being suspicious of other people speaking another language."

    His organization promotes official-English policies, which exist in 27 states, and apply only to government, not the private sector. He believes workplace policies should not extend to people's personal time.

    Checkmark graphic Multiple languages may contribute to tension on the job site.

    When people can't understand one another there is a greater chance for tension to develop.

    If some workers use a foreign language to mock others morale can break down. Occasionally harassment goes undetected because it is in a foreign language. In another setting an English-speaking worker sued her employer for providing a discriminatory work environment because her coworkers were isolating her by consistently speaking a foreign language she didn't understand. There is no information yet on the outcome of this case.

    Checkmark graphic Restricting language use can be deemed as discriminatory.

    Title VII permits employers to adopt English-only rules under certain circumstances.

    As with any other workplace policy, an English-only rule must be adopted for nondiscriminatory reasons. An English-only rule would be unlawful if it were adopted with the intent to discriminate on the bases of national origin. But is not discriminatory if required for safety, enhanced on the job communications, customer service, and similar job related reasons equally applied to all employees.

    The EEOC's general position is that English-only rules constitute national origin discrimination in violation of Title VII because they create an atmosphere of intimidation, inferiority, and isolation in the workplaces of those non-English speakers.

    Checkmark graphic Multi-lingual makeup of society can provide more opportunity by language diversity.

    The diversity in our nation and workplaces can offer new opportunities for businesses.

    At a construction site in Denver 75 supervisors opted to learn Spanish during a 10-week on-the-job course. Half the work force on the huge interstate project known as T-REX is Hispanic - and in that group, 1 out of 4 speak very little English.

    A supervisor on the site, Ed Carpenter, stated: "If you don't take time to understand their culture, you tend to, in the sublime, communicate arrogance and superiority. We're so dependent on each other for safety, and for the quality of work that's expected by the customer."

    In other cases employers sometimes seek bilingual and multilingual employees needed for various types of business communication.

Click here for Top

Checkmark Graphic Types of Policies

English only policies generally fall into 2 main types.

    First: Business Necessity -
    A policy where English is the only language allowed in situations where the job is directly affected by this need. For example, as in a situation where English must be spoken for customer service, but not necessarily in the storerooms or back rooms etc.

    Second: Safety -
    A policy where English is only spoken in emergency situations, so everyone can understand basic safety commands, such as fire drills and hazardous waste emergencies etc.

Note: even where an English-only rule has been adopted for nondiscriminatory reasons, the employer's use of the rule should relate to specific circumstances in its workplace.

Lets break these down for clarification.

Checkmark graphic Business Necessity / Job Performance

The following are some situations in which business necessity would justify an English-only rule:

  • For communications with customers, coworkers, or supervisors who only speak English
  • In emergencies or other situations in which workers must speak a common language to promote safety
  • For cooperative work assignments in which the English-only rule is needed to promote efficiency
  • To enable a supervisor who only speaks English to monitor the performance of an employee who's job duties require communication with coworkers or customers

Checkmark graphic Safety

Employees can properly be required to speak English while they are performing job duties that involve safety concerns, potentially dangerous substances, and equipment because it is necessary for the save and efficient operation of the business.

For example, a petroleum company can have a rule requiring all employees to speak only English during an emergency. The rule also requires that employees speak in English while performing job duties in laboratories and processing areas where there is the danger of fire or explosion.

The rule does not apply to casual conversations between employees in the laboratory or processing areas when they are not performing a gob duty. The English-only rule does not violate Title VII because it is narrowly tailored to safety requirements.

Click here for Top

Checkmark Graphic Summary

Whenever possible it is best for employers to avoid language requirements unless there is a legitimate reason for requiring English proficiency and use.

In any instance where a language requirement is necessary it is important to document the valid, business-related reasons for the requirement, which could include "promoting a diverse but homogeneous and cooperative work force".

Employers interested in implementing an English-only policy should know their rights as business owners.

All language policies should be documented from the very beginning in clear and concise terms. Employers also should communicate to employees the consequences of breaking the rule in straightforward terms, and clearly specify whether there are exceptions during lunch and breaks.

In the event of litigation, business owners must be ready to support an English-only policy by demonstrating that specific circumstances in the workplace necessitated the decision and that alternative resolutions were explored and exhausted.

In evaluating whether to adopt an English-only rule, an employer should weigh business justifications for the rule against possible discriminatory effects of the rule. English-only policies generate relatively few official grievances, but can be very costly if they do.

There are often nondiscriminatory alternatives to English-only rules, such as isolating problem behavior or situations and dealing with them individually.

If you have a specific concern or need help with language requirements on your job site contact us at Braun Consulting Group to see how we might help.

Click here for Top

Update On FLSA Overtime Act Next Page

The Contents of this News Letter are intended for general information
and should not be construed as legal advise or opinion.
Click Here to view our Web Site Disclaimer Page.

button *  INSIDE   * HOME  * ARCHIVES
Braun Consulting Group
* Insurance * Labor * Personnel

1326 5th Ave, Suite 339 / Seattle, WA 98101
Contact Braun-BCG

Site by - AJ Consulting / © 2004 Braun Consulting Group