Are English-Only Policies Legal?
Rules prohibiting employees from speaking Spanish are illegal, with few exceptions. Such cases are investigated by the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). The EEOCC determines whether a policy is legal or not. In cases of discrimination based on such violations, it helps a great deal to have a Spanish-speaking attorney. Let’s explore some more questions.
What is the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission?
The EEOCC investigates potential violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It specifies that it is illegal to impose a rule on employees to speak only English, unless it is a business necessity. This simply means that speaking English is necessary when communicating with supervisors or customers who only speak English or when collaborative work relies on it for productivity. Emergencies and other safety procedures may require that a common language be spoken, as well. Otherwise, your company’s language policy may be illegal.
What is Title VII?
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on national origin. Examples include discrimination based on a person's appearance or customs; discrimination based on being associated with a particular nationality; and physical or verbal harassment based on nationality, such as ethnic slurs. Without a reasonable business basis, such policies are against the law, according to Title VII.
When is an English-only policy a violation of the law?
Companies with blanket English-only policies have been successfully sued by the EEOCC, on behalf of Hispanic employees. For example, in 2000, the case of EEOCC v. Premier Operator Services held that the company’s policy of prohibiting speaking Spanish, except when helping Spanish-speaking customers, constituted disparate treatment discrimination based on national origin. The company claimed that the policy promoted harmony, even though no evidence of disharmony existed.
When is an English-only policy permitted?
The only time English-only policies are held up in court is when the business justification is deemed valid. In 2009, the case of Perez v. New York Presbyterian Hospital, the hospital’s rationale for the policy was to prevent situations where patients hear two languages and then refuse to cooperate with English-speaking doctors. In this case, the court could not be convinced that the policy was motivated by discrimination. The intention to avoid such a scenario was considered justified.
This blog is for informational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice. Each case must be evaluated based on its own set of facts. Please contact the Law Office of H. Benjamin Sharlin LLC if you would like a consultation concerning your matter.
The Law Office of H. Benjamin Sharlin LLC
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