The EEOC guidelines on English-only rules, found at 29 C.F.R. § 1606.7, state that an employer may require that employees speak English at certain times in the workplace only if the employer can show that the rule is justified by “business necessity” at those times. An English-only rule is justified by business necessity if it is needed for an employer to operate safely or efficiently.  Apparently, not everyone in HR management is bothering to stay up with EEOC rules.

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. But relieving the discomfort of coworkers is not, in and of itself, a matter of business necessity that can justify an English-only rule.

On November 26, 2014, a Navy manager issued an employee a Letter of Expectations which directed her and her subordinates to “[ajlways use the English language when discussing work topics in the work environment.” EEOC found that this instruction constituted an English-only rule and was not justified by business necessity. There was no evidence in the record that requiring employees to speak only English while discussing work topics in the work environment was necessary for the safe or efficient operation of the Agency. A manager stated that an unnamed employee complained about the use of the Tagalog language in the workplace because she felt excluded. However, EEOC found that there was no evidence of a widespread problem involving language-related interpersonal conflicts or derogatory or intimidating conduct.  The Commission pointed out the Agency could have used a nondiscriminatory alternative, such as individually counseling employees about appropriate workplace conduct, to address the matter. Consequently, the decision was that Agency subjected the employee to discrimination on the basis of national origin when, from November 26, 2014, until at least March 31, 2015, it implemented an English-only rule that was not justified by business necessity. The Philippine employee can now file for compensatory damages. Check out Minda v. Richard V. Spencer, Secretary, Department of the Navy, Agency, EEOC Appeal No. 0120162040 (2018)

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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