Are English-Only Rules Discriminatory? - Brown Kwon & Lam, LLP.

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Are English-Only Rules Discriminatory?

Posted September 15, 2022 | Discrimination, Employment Law

As so many people with ties to all over the world call New York City home, you can find many different languages being spoken throughout the city. Of course, there are also many people in NYC who speak English in addition to another language. In some positions, speaking more than one language can be a huge asset. However, employees who speak a language other than English are not always treated fairly based on this characteristic. In some cases, employers may try to put English-only rules in place that require employees to speak English at all times in the workplace.

If you speak a language other than English, you may be wondering if your employer is allowed to enforce such policies. Whether or not English-only rules in the workplace are considered discriminatory can vary depending on why the employer feels this policy is necessary.

Can Your Employer Require You to Speak English?

If you and another employee both speak the same language that isn’t English, it’s understandable that this may be the language you use to communicate with one another. This can be especially true if it’s a language you feel more comfortable using than English. This might not have anything to do with performing your job duties. When you’re having a personal conversation with a coworker who speaks the same language, it might be easiest for you to use your preferred language.

However, your employer may take issue with this and try to enforce an English-only rule that prohibits this. In some cases, this could be a form of discrimination. English-only rules are allowed, but not in every circumstance. Workplace policies that require you to speak English are allowed when it’s justified by a business necessity. The following situations can be considered a business necessity:

  • Communicating with others who only speak English.
  • In emergencies or situations where employees must speak the same language for safety.
  • When working with others and a common language is needed for efficiency.
  • When a supervisor who only speaks English needs to monitor the performance of employees whose job duties involve communication.

Dictating what language you speak while having casual conversions unrelated to performing your job duties may be considered unlawful.

What is National Origin Discrimination?

National origin discrimination occurs when an employee is treated unfavorably due to their actual or perceived national origin. This can include a person’s birth, country of origin, ancestry, native language, accent, and more. National origin discrimination is unlawful under federal, state, and local laws. Because national origin discrimination involves treating employees unfavorably due to their language, English-only policies could be considered discriminatory when they aren’t used for a business necessity.

Protect Yourself from National Origin Discrimination with Brown Kwon & Lam

If you’re experiencing national origin discrimination due to the language you speak or another characteristic associated with your national origin, Brown Kwon & Lam can help. Our experienced national origin discrimination attorneys can help you fight to receive the fair treatment you deserve at work. Whether you feel that your employer’s English-only rule discriminates against you or you’re being discriminated against or harassed for your language in another way, we can help you understand your rights.

Contact us today to see how we can help.

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