English-Only Policy as a Form of National Origin Discrimination

Published: 15th August 2009
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The Equal Employment Opportunities (EEOC) has continually scrutinized policies of some companies to implement English-only policies in the workplace.

According to the title VII of the Civil Rights Code, an employer is prohibited from discriminating an employee based on his/her national origin.

Whether the employee's national origin is Mexican, Ukrainian, Filipino, Arab or any other nationality, they should be entitled to the same employment opportunities and rights as anyone else.

Although some people do not fully understand what "national origin" means, it can be explained as the aggregate or combination of the following:

• Ancestry

• Ethnicity

• Place of birth

• Cultural characteristics

• Regional and cultural beliefs

• Linguistic characteristics

Discrimination on language used by the employee is also a form of discrimination based on national origin.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Code covers discrimination based on national origin through language such as:

• Accent discrimination - The employer is prohibited in making decisions about an employee based on his/her foreign accent unless the accent interferes with his/her job function.

• English fluency - An English fluency requirement is only acceptable if it is essential for the position that will be filled.

• English only rules - English only rules can only be implemented to promote safe and efficient operations of the company or the business. It should not be adopted for discriminatory purposes.

Title VII of the Civil rights code and other discrimination laws prohibit discrimination against all individuals, whatever citizenship or national origin.

However, relief will be limited if said employee does not have proper work authorization.

The Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, who implements the Title VII of the Civil rights code, has also issued regulations which define that a blanket English-only policy is illegal and unlawful, and is a form of national origin discrimination.

The EEOC also issued that limited English-only policies can only be implemented if it is necessary for business operations.

Here is a list of examples where English-only policies may be justified under the EEOC guidelines:

• For communication purposes where customers, co-workers, and supervisors only speak English.

• During emergencies and other situations where all employees and workers must speak the same language to promote safety.

• For cooperative work assignments where the English-only rule will promote efficiency.

• To help a supervisor, who only speaks in English, monitor the performance of employees whose job functions include interacting with co-workers, clients and customers.

Although through those given situations, an English-only policy may be justifiable, employers are still recommended to take actions in combating discrimination in the workplace, especially those based on language and national origin.

Here are some steps employers could implement to avoid national origin discrimination in the workplace:

• The company should implement cultural sensitivity training programs for employees and especially for supervisors.

• The company can provide non -native English speaking employees some English classes.

• The company should apply the rule with fairness as much as possible.

• The company should draft their English-only policy as narrowly as possible.

• The company should give employees a fair notice of the English-only policy and the consequences for violating it.

• Have the policy written in other languages so it can be fully understood no matter what the employee's national origin is.

Our employment attorneys are experienced in handling employment cases involving national origin discrimination in the workplace. For consultation, log on to our website and call our toll free number.

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