Four ways to avoid ethnic discrimination in the workplace lawsuits

by on January 5, 2009 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: HR Info Center

Is an English only policy at work an invitation to an ethnic discrimination in the workplace suit?

With an increasing number of non-native English speakers in the American workforce, employers have been challenged to develop effective, nondiscriminatory language and communications policies.

Some employers have tried to institute a policy that requires all employees to speak English at all times in the workplace, claiming that having one language in the workforce helps promote effective communication, increases efficiency and improves employee relations. However, attorneys warn that these types of policies may go too far. Employers who introduce language rules in the workplace must be mindful that these policies may precipitate ethnic discrimination in the workplace lawsuits.

Legitimate business reasons can blunt language based ethnic discrimination lawsuit

In order to minimize liability for racial and national-origin discrimination lawsuits, employers wishing to institute an English-only policy should keep the following points in mind:

    There must be a legitimate and compelling business reason for the rule, such as workplace safety or the need for client service. Be careful, however, that the rule is narrowly tailored to fit the reason. For example, if the reason is customer service, then the English-only rule shouldn’t stretch to meal breaks or other situations where customer service isn’t involved. Just because your policy is designed to “improve ethnic relations” doesn’t mean it won’t land you in hot water.
    Avoid prohibiting a certain language, such as a “No Spanish” policy.
    Explain to all employees when the policy applies – and tell them the consequences for violating it. Include this information in the employee handbook and communicate it often
    Enforce the rule fairly, uniformly and sensibly among all employees

Employers who follow these guidelines should decrease the likelihood of a ethnic discrimination in the workplace lawsuit based on unfair application of English-only rules.

Source: Krupin O’Brien, LLC.

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