Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA)—the federal and state anti-bias laws—both allow employers to adopt English-only policies for their employees in limited circumstances.
You may adopt an English-only policy only if it is justified by a legitimate business necessity. An English-only policy is unlawful if adopted with the intent to discriminate based on national origin. Similarly, a policy that prohibits some but not all foreign languages spoken in a workplace, such as a no-Arabic policy, is unlawful.
The following checklist will help you avoid charges of national origin discrimination when you adopt an English-only policy:
|Is the policy necessary for the safe & efficient operation of your business?|
|Have you received complaints that employee don’t understand instruction?|
|Do you have legitimate concerns that safety problems will develop because of misunderstood communication?|
|Do you have legitimate concerns that productivity is hindered by ineffective communication?|
|Does the policy effectively fulfill the business purpose it is supposed to serve?|
|Is no alternative practice available that would accomplish the business purposes equally well with less of a discriminatory impact?|
|Is the policy limited to times when it is justified by a business necessity? For example, you can require sales staff to speak English while on the retail floor but not during meal break periods.|
|Have you notified your employees of the circumstances and the time when the language restriction is required to be observed & of the consequences for violating the policy?|
|Do you enforce the policy consistently? Don’t allow some employees to speak their native language but not others.|
For illustration purposes, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has indicated that the following are
some situations in which an English-only policy would be justified: (1) to
communicate with customers, co-workers, or supervisors who speak only English,
(2) in emergencies or other situations in which workers must speak a common
language to promote safety, (3) for cooperative work assignments in which the
English-only policy is needed to promote efficiency, and (4) to enable a
supervisor who speaks only English to monitor the performance of an employee
whose job duties require communication with co-workers or customers. June 2011,
BNA California Employer Advisor.