The New Tennessee “English Only” Law


On June 23, 2010, Governor Bredesen signed into law an amendment to the Tennessee Human Rights Act (THRA) which allows Tennessee employers to require their employees to speak English on the job whenever there is a “legitimate business or safety necessity.” Such necessities include emergencies and other incidents where co-workers must speak a common language in order to promote or ensure safety or business efficiency. Unfortunately, the law does not define “legitimate business necessity” in further detail beyond “including, but not limited to, the safe and efficient operation of the employer’s business.” (Interestingly, this is the same language the EEOC uses in its guidelines to describe acceptable “English only” policies.) Under this amendment to the THRA, it is not a discriminatory practice for employers to institute policies requiring employees to speak English at these “necessary” times in the workplace. Employers implementing “English only” policies must provide notice to employees both of the policy and of the consequences of violating it.

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