English-Only Requirement in the Workplace

Can I have an "English-Only" rule for my employees? The short answer is, yes.  The more accurate answer, however, is only under very limited circumstances where there is a justifiable business and/or safety need. 

DISFAVORING NON-U.S. CITIZENS

There are several reasons why businesses would want to require employees to speak the same language: it makes it easier for members of management to understand employees; there could be concerns regarding safety in the workplace; if customers or vendors are around you want to be responsive and not off-putting to them; and it might make it easier to develop a unified company culture. 

The reasons for having an English-only rule is compelling, but the problem is English-only rules demographically disfavor non-U.S. citizens, lawful residents from other countries, people from a different nation of origin, and non-Caucasians. While the road to English-only rules might be paved with good intent, the result is that such rules will statistically impact protected classes of people to their disadvantage. 

COMMON LANGUAGE NEEDED

When could you consider such a policy?  If there is a legitimate workplace safety concern that could only be overcome with everyone speaking a common language, such a rule might be appropriate. If your employees need to work as a team, a common language rule might be necessary to ensure the efficiency of the project. If the employee will be engaging with customers or vendors, mandating a language they understand can be legitimate.  If you decide to have an English-only rule, create a well-written policy carving out the limited circumstances and reasons behind the policy. 

 
 
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