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.” 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.” 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.