English-Only Rule May Present Headaches for Employers


Anti-Discrimination TrainingEmployers who implement English-only rules often find themselves facing charges of national origin discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. English-only rules are discriminatory because they tend to allow American-born but often not foreign-born employees to communicate in their language of origin.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) contends that such discriminatory conduct engenders feelings of inferiority, isolation and fear in foreign employees.

There are, however, exceptions to the prohibition on English-only rules. The EEOC and U.S. Department of Labor acknowledge that business necessity or safety may justify an English-only rule. However, employers must narrowly tailor such rules to achieve specific goals that it could not achieve with another non-discriminatory rule. Here are some guidelines for employers:

  • Specify when employees are required to communicate in English.
  • Don't single out a particular language for prohibition.
  • Clearly state that employees may speak their native language when not performing a duty requiring English.
  • Provide notice of the rule. If an employee can speak but not read English, translate the rule and have the employee sign an acknowledgment that he/she received the notice.

Federal, state and local laws require that employers take measures to avoid workplace discrimination and harassment.  

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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