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Are English-Only Rules Discriminatory?

By Dan Atkerson on May 20, 2015

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) usually considers rules requiring the use of English discriminatory under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. When the issue has come up in federal courts in the past, judges have pointed out that it is critical to assess whether the English-only rules reflect an intent to discriminate on the basis of race or national origin.

What Defines an English-Only Rule?

An employer establishes an “English-only” rule when it either mandates the use of English or prohibits the use of other languages in the workplace. Typically, these policies only affect the worker while on the job, but in some cases extend to lunch and breaks.

In order for a business to enforce such a rule, it must specify that employees are only to speak English at certain times, and the rule must meet the standard of “business necessity.” Necessity can arise in a variety of cases, including:

  • Times when communications with customers, other workers or supervisors only speak English
  • When emergency situations require a common language for the sake of safety
  • When work assignments are cooperative and the English-only rule affects efficiency
  • For supervisors who only speak English to monitor other employees’ performance
If you suspect that your employer’s English-only rule could be rooted in race or national origin discrimination, speak with an employment law attorney to find out if you have a case.

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