“ENGLISH! ENGLISH!”

That is what a manager shouted at two employees he found speaking Spanish while casually asking about each other’s families. When the employees filed a complaint alleging that was discrimination, the agency responded that surely a one-time incident criticizing employees for not speaking English did not tangibly harm the employee enough to rise to a formal violation of law. Well, EEOC said “Incorrecto!” It followed that up with an order that the agency compensate the employee for damage done them.

In its formal decision, the Commission spelled out some situations where a rule requiring employees to speak only English would constitute a business necessity and be legitimate.

The following are some situations in which business necessity would justify an English-only rule: for communications with customers, coworkers, or supervisors who speak only English; in emergencies or other situations in which workers must speak a common language to promote safety; for cooperative work assignments in which the English-only rule is needed to promote efficiency; and to enable a supervisor who speaks only English to monitor the performance of an employee whose job duties require communication with coworkers or customers. Ameliorating the discomfort of coworkers is not, in and of itself, a matter of business necessity that can justify an English-only rule.

Check out Eric S. v. Shanahan, DOD, EEOC No. 0120171646 (2019).

About AdminUN

FEDSMILL staff has over 40 years of federal sector labor relations experience on the union as well as management side of the table and even some time as a neutral.
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