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A workplace language policy can be discriminatory under the law

On Behalf of | Feb 23, 2022 | Uncategorized |

National origin is a protected employment class under federal law as well as Oregon state law. That means that employers can’t discriminate against people in hiring, promotion, disciplinary actions, termination or by allowing harassment based on the fact that they were born in another country or perceived to be of another nationality, even if they were born in the United States.

An employer may be guilty of national origin discrimination in other ways – for example, requiring employees to speak English even when they’re engaged in a non-work-related conversation or prohibiting them from speaking a particular language, such as Spanish, while in the workplace.

When can an employer require everyone to speak English?

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) allows employers to require communication in English in certain situations, such as:

  • When communicating with others who only speak English.
  • When everyone needs to communicate in the same language for safety purposes
  • In “cooperative work assignments”
  • When a manager has to be able to understand an employee to monitor or assess their performance

None of these situations should prevent an employee from being able to speak another language if they’re having a personal conversation either with another employee or over the phone while they’re in the lunchroom, in the hallway or on a patio that’s not related to work. 

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) states that policy that forbids any language besides English at all times is “a burdensome term and condition of employment….presumed to violate Title VII.” 

If you believe that your employer is illegally discriminating against you in any way because of your national origin (or perceived national origin), find out what your rights are under the law and how to best assert them.