Thursday, June 21, 2007

English-only workplaces spark lawsuits


"White Americans, what?

Nothing better to do?

Why don't you kick yourself out?

You're an immigrant too!"

-- Jack White, Icky Thump (2007).

Immigration reform continues to be a hot button issue, and a recent rash of lawsuits continues to fuel the debate over whether an “English-only” rule constitutes national origin discrimination. The EEOC’s position is that a “rule requiring employees to speak only English at all times in the workplace is a burdensome term and condition of employment” and presumptively “violates Title VII.” 29 C.F.R. § 1606.7(a). According to the EEOC, an “employer may have a rule requiring that employees speak only in English at certain times where the employer can show that the rule is justified by business necessity.” 29 C.F.R. § 1606.7(b). The majority of federal courts, however, have shown some tolerance of “English-only” rules. Generally, Courts will uphold an English-only rule if the employer can show a legitimate business justification for the requirement. Examples of legitimate business justifications that have been found to justify an English-only requirement are:
  • Stemming hostility among employees.
  • Fostering politeness to customers.
  • Promoting communication with customers, coworkers, or supervisors who only speak English.
  • Enabling employees to speak a common language to promote safety or enable cooperative work assignments.
  • Facilitating a supervisor’s ability monitor the performance of an employee.
  • Furthering interpersonal relations among employees.
Employers should be careful, however, to limit the reach of an English-only requirement only as far as it necessary to reach the articulated business rationale for the policy. For example, English-only requirements have been struck down as discriminatory where the policy included lunch hours, breaks, and even private telephone conversations. You should consult with employment counsel before implementing any English-language requirements in your workplace to ensure that the policy is not discriminatory as written or as applied.

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