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Is it legal for employees to ban non-English languages at work?

On Behalf of | Jun 30, 2021 | Blog, Employment Law

The Center for Immigration Studies reported in 2018 that over 67 million U.S. residents conversed in a non-English language in their homes. According to BBC, that same year native Spanish speakers accounted for 13% of the nation’s population, individuals who often faced and still face discrimination for using their first language. There were also close to 12 million bilingual Spanish users.

Prejudice against those speaking foreign languages in the workplace still occurs. The law is quite clear about bigotry in the work environment, but employers making workers speak only English is a more legally complex manner.

Discrimination is illegal

Federal regulations and the state of California’s own Fair Employment and Housing Act forbid discrimination on the basis of not only language but also accent, syntax, manner of speech and extent of vocabulary. In most cases, forcing workers to only speak English at work is against the law.

What counts as discrimination is more fluid

However, if the company is able to prove that a blanket ban on all languages but English is necessary for the job/business, without any other alternatives, such an order may not count as discrimination. The employer must still inform all workers about when and where they must only speak English. Similarly, if the employer proves that accent or lack of ability to speak the language on a certain level directly keeps employees from doing their jobs, treating them differently may not be discrimination. Imposing an English-only policy on people who do not speak or only speak a little English is discrimination, particularly if they are able to perform their duties without it.

Those suffering workplace discrimination for speaking their native language may file a complaint with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission within a certain period.

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