We need to address the issue of being able to speak English in our new handbook. We are in a very safety sensative industry where you have to be able to speak and understand English for safety reasons. Can you give us an idea how to address this issue in our handbook?
Thank you as always for answering our questions.
You want to be very careful here, because English-only rules can backfire and lead to lawsuits for illegal discrimination based on race, color or national ancestry. Speaking English can be a bona fide job qualification in some cases (and presumably all of your current employees meet that qualification. Otherwise, why would you have hired them?)
English-only rules may be permitted when they are implemented as a safety measure. In the 1980s, the EEOC permitted a rule that required employees at an oil refinery to use English only in the labs and other areas where there was risk of explosion.
The EEOC has also found that an employer can require English only in work areas to facilitate supervision of employees, or to help employees learn English when the majority of customers communicate in English.
The important factor is that you cannot prohibit employees from speaking any language they want while at lunch or on break, or in other personal conversations. The rule must apply to all employees. You cannot let some Hispanic employees speak Spanish while forbidding Jamacian employees from speaking their language. Be cautious — some employers have used an English only policy to discriminate against workers, and be sued for millions of dollars.
English-only rules are most effective when they are combined with free English classes in the workplace.
Read more about English-only rules at: http://www.eeoc.gov/policy/docs/national-origin.html#VC
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