May 2014 Newsletter
This month we discuss the importance of tolerance in the workplace. Employers and managers may not know what to do when some of their employees speak multiple languages while at work. Some other employees may even express concerns.
Employees Who Speak Multiple Languages in the Workplace
While many employers have had employees who spoke multiple languages, not all of them have handled it correctly. Let us pretend you manage a department store that sells household appliances. You have four Spanish-speaking employees who frequently talk to each other in Spanish. One of your employees who does not speak Spanish now comes to you stating that he thinks the Spanish speakers have been making fun of him in Spanish and it is making him uncomfortable. What should you do?
First you need to look at the facts. The problem here is that a group of employees may be harassing another employee, not that employees are speaking in another language. Therefore, you need to determine what was said, and handle it the same way you would handle any other instance where employees are being inappropriate in the workplace. Focus on the meaning of the words, and follow your policies/procedures for this type of harassment.
Many employers mistakenly target the different language, instead of concentrating on the words or behaviors of their employees. If an employer tries to enact an “English-Only” mandate where all employees must only speak English at all times at work, that employer will be discriminating against national origin. The only time English only mandates are permitted are where Business Necessity justifies them.
When Would English-Only Mandates be Justified by a Business Necessity?
We do not recommend ever instituting an English-only policy. The circumstance where such a policy is lawful is extremely rare and narrow in scope.
First, it is important to note that English-only mandates are only valid to circumstances in the workplace, and only when the policy is needed for an employer to operate safely or efficiently. The EEOC stated that the following situations 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 whose job duties require communication with coworkers or customers
1. English-only mandates are almost never the solution.
2. If a second language becomes a “problem” at your workplace remember to focus on the meaning of the words, not the language they were spoken in.
3. Stop and think before acting! Is there really even a problem, or is someone overreacting to nothing?
Human Resource Solutions will be glad to answer any questions you may have regarding this, or any other, employment issue you are having. Contact Us!