“English-Only” Policies

by | November 8, 2005

The Wall Street Journal reported today that the cosmetics store Sephora, owned by LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vitton, was recently sued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of 5 Spanish-speaking latino workers who were reprimanded for speaking Spanish to one another even on their breaks. The company had not officially implemented an “English-Only” rule which has been found to be discriminatory in other companies. The company may still be found to have harrassed employees by asking them not to speak Spanish to one another. Many companies use English-Only policies to ensure English speaking customers and workers are not alienated in the work environment. Under Federal law, such policies are acceptable if the requirement to speak English is justified by business necessity or safety concerns. As many small businesses are exempt from employment discrimination laws, you may wonder what the relevance of this topic is for you. With any employment policy, consider the reason behind the policy and the implication to all stakeholders. Consider whether any negative interpretations or perceptions may arise from implementation of the policy and whether other mechanisms or implementations may serve the purpose without these negative elements. Most importantly, communicate the policy clearly to employees and solicit feedback. Your employees are the face of your business to your customers and often your key quality control point for customer service. Be sure they feel that they are treated with respect and a valued part of the business.

Author: Michelle Bomberger, Bellevue Business Lawyer