There is an interesting case out of Green Bay, Wisconsin where Wisconsin Plastics, Inc. (WPI) is being sued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for making English speaking a condition of employment. WPI was found by the EEOC to be in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which protects employees from discrimination based on national origin. The company fired Hispanic and Asian employees on the basis of not speaking English in the workplace.
EEOC Chicago Regional Attorney John C. Hendrickson stated that “Our experience at the EEOC has been that so-called ‘English only’ rules and requirements of English fluency are often employed to make what is really discrimination appear acceptable,. But superficial appearances are not fooling anyone. When speaking English fluently is not, in fact, required for the safe and effective performance of a job, nor for the successful operation of the employer’s business, requiring employees to be fluent in English usually constitutes employment discrimination on the basis of national origin — and thus violates federal law.”
The EEOC said that the action was taken after relatively short interviews to judge the English ability of the employees. In 2009 the agency issued a controversial order making a workplace English rule illegal.
While clearly any threshold rule can be used for superficial and discriminatory ways, the Obama Administration seems to view English only rules as per se discriminatory as opposed to an “as applied” discriminatory practice. However, I could see legitimate reasons for a business to want a single language to be spoken by all employees from efficiency to safety concerns.
Here is the policy from the EEOC website:
The EEOC has stated that rules requiring employees to speak only English in the workplace violate the law unless they are reasonable necessary to the operation of the business.
A rule requiring employees to speak only English in the workplace at all times, including breaks and lunch time, will rarely be justified.
An English-only rule should be limited to the circumstances in which it is needed for the employer to operate safely or efficiently.
Circumstances in which an English-only rule may be justified include: communications with customers or coworkers who only speak English; emergencies or other situations in which workers must speak a common language to promote safety; cooperative work assignments in which the English-only rule is needed to promote efficiency.
Even if there is a need for an English-only rule, an employer may not take disciplinary action against an employee for violating the rule unless the employer has notified workers about the rule and the consequences of violating it.
It seems to rule out the argument that a business generally functions more efficiency with a single language in use and that multiple languages can impede actions taken in emergency situations like workplace accidents.
What do you think?
Kudos: Michael Blott