Employee policies may limit workers in various ways while on the job. They may restrict how a person can dress, what words they can use and many other details. However, policies that limit workers to using English while on the premises may be a form of illegal discrimination. What should workers know about these policies?
How do English-only policies constitute discrimination?
Employee policies that restrict workers to only English will usually impact workers from specific national origins. Discipline for violating English-only policies will also disproportionately affect those employees. As a result, these policies can be a form of national origin discrimination. As the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission notes, these policies can even limit effective communication for employees for whom English is a second language.
Can employers implement English-only policies?
In some cases, business operations and employee safety may warrant a policy limiting workers’ use of language under specific circumstances. For example, an employer might require employees to speak English during tasks so that everyone involved can perform their work efficiently. English-only rules may also apply to emergencies to support employee safety or to working with English-speaking customers.
However, employers cannot employ policies that require the use of English at all times. For example, restricting workers to English while on the business’s premises would not generally be necessary to promote employee safety, workplace performance or daily operations. These policies would likely be discriminatory.
If a workplace language policy impacted you, you may want to explore your legal options. You may be able to push back against these unfair policies and protect your career.