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IDear Workforce-I Is Our English-Only Policy Legit


Dear Workforce:

I work in a retail environment and am the Loss Prevention Manager. A memo was sent out by upper management to all of the retail associates. All associates use headsets to communicate with each other, with management and with loss prevention. The memo has a notation that is upsetting some of the English/Spanish speaking employees.

I’ve retyped the part of the memo that I have a question about:


#3 No inappropriate conversations or language (i.e. discussing where to eat, using foul language, or speaking in a language other than English). All conversations are to be brief and to the point.

Can management request the part about “English only” of the associates? Some of the associates are speaking Spanish to each other, and management can’t understand them, so therefore, they don’t want it to be spoken.

—Burl Davis, Loss Prevention Manager, Orange, CA.


A Dear Burl:

I’m not an attorney, so you may want to also ask this of Epstein, Becker and Green in the Workforce Legal Forum (workforce.com/legal).

In the meantime, keep in mind that the EEOC says that English-only rules must have a business purpose. The courts don’t always agree with the EEOC, but that’s another story (the company probably doesn’t want to end up in court).

So the question is, “is there a legitimate business purpose in the rules?”

I don’t really have any idea of the answer to the “legitimate business purpose” litmus test from your question, but you’d have to determine if the speaking of Spanish is causing tension, creating inefficiencies, affecting job performance, affecting teamwork, relations with managers, customer service, and safety (e.g. if people didn’t know English and couldn’t understand safety meetings)?

Of course, those business negatives would have to be weighed against the positives of the speaking of Spanish (making people feel at home, for example).

Those are questions you’ll want to ask yourself.


SOURCE: Todd Raphael, Online Editor for Workforce, May 11, 2000; also CCH.

E-mail your Dear Workforce questions to Online Editor Todd Raphael at raphaelt@workforceonline.com, along with your name, title, organization and location. Unless you state otherwise, your identifying info may be used on Workforce.com and in Workforce magazine. We can’t guarantee we’ll be able to answer every question.