English only in the workplace

(EEOC and English only)

Mark Fennell

July 2006

 

Basics of EEOC and English only in the workplace

Practical Legal Details

Details on Rule #1

Details on Rule #2

Immigrants talking with each other

EEOC and accents

Conclusion

 


Basics of EEOC and English only in the workplace

 

Introduction

When you hire employees, can you mandate that they speak only English? Or, can these employees speak whatever language they want?

Immigrants will claim their right, in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, that they can speak their native language. However, we can (if done correctly) legally mandate that these employees speak English.

 

Mandating Your Employees Speak English

In order to legally mandate that your employees speak English:

1. You must be able to show that "the English-only rule is critical for business purposes",

and

2. You must tell each employee at which times, or under which circumstances, the English language must be used,

and

3. You must specify the consequences to each employee what the consequence will be for not using English.


Practical Legal Details

of EEOC and English-only in the workplace

 

Rule #1: "The English-only rule is critical for business purposes"

Anyone who is likely to read this article already knows that speaking English is a practical necessity for doing business in the United States. Therefore, I am going to provide some specific arguments which will support our legal claim regarding "critical for business purposes."

 

• If I hire an employee, that employee must speak the same language as myself so that we can communicate.

I speak English; I do not speak any other language than English. There is no legal requirement that I learn any other language. Therefore, the burden is on the employee to learn English.

 

• Directing an employee requires that he have a detailed understanding of the language.

As an employer, I need to direct my employee. There might be hundreds of different objects, hundreds of different adjectives, and dozes of different units, all of which must be understood by the employee.

Therefore, the employee must not only understand some English, but must be fluent in English. The employee must be sufficiently fluent in English so that he can understand every detail of my instructions.

 

• Errors cost money.

If an employee does not understand my instructions, then errors are made. These errors cost money. Depending on the specifics of the task, these efforts could cost thousands of dollars.

Therefore, the employee must understand English proficiently enough to prevent costly errors.

 

• There are other areas of communication where understanding the language is critical for business purposes; therefore an English-only work environment is absolutely sensible.

Many other professions require a technical language. Chemists, doctors, computer programmers, attorneys, and many other professions use specialized technical terms. In order for any of these professions to be successful, both employer and employee must be fluent in these technical terms.

There are many people, born and raised in the United States, fluent in English, yet have not learned technical terms of a particular profession. These individuals cannot be hired for the job, because they cannot communicate effectively with the employer.

This situation is similar to the English-only rule we ask of all our employees. The fact that we demand English-only of our lesser skilled employees should be treated with equal merit.

 

Rule #2: Tell each employee at which times, or under which circumstances, the English language must be used

The most common circumstances will be:

1. When talking with you

2. When talking with customers

What about using English all the time when they are at the job, regardless who they talk with? That point might be legally debatable. I'm not sure that we can get that just yet.

 

Immigrants talking to each other

Immigrant employees do have the right to talk to each other in their foreign language. But there are things you can do to encourage English in the workplace.

You can ask them to speak English all the time, even to each other, the entire time they are on the job, not just when talking with you or talking with other customers. They might agree. However, you don't have any legal right to force them.

You can also discuss with them the ideas of American history and assimilation. You can try to gently persuade them that speaking English is a good thing, for everyone who lives in America. After some discussions, they might come around. However, as an employer you must be careful to do this politely, so that it doesn't sound like harassment.

 

EEOC and Accents

Note that you cannot discriminate against a person because of their accent. However, you should know how to interpret that rule.

I believe that, legally, you can choose not to hire someone because of their accent, IF you are unable to understand him. This is a case of communication, not of ethnicity. Therefore it is related to the skills of the job, not the individual as a human.

However, what you can not do is hear an accent, think he is from a certain part of the world, and conclude that you don't like him. This would be a type of prejudice, simply based on where he came from.


Conclusion

If you hire immigrants, you can demand they speak English if:

1. You would be able to show that "the English-only rule is critical for business purposes"

2. You must tell each employee when the English language must be used, and

3. You must specify the consequences to each employee what the consequence will be for not using English.

Mark Fennell
July 20, 2006