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California Employment Lawyers > Blog > Employment > Are English Only And No-Accent Policies At Work Allowed?

Are English Only And No-Accent Policies At Work Allowed?


You probably know that if an employer were to discriminate against you on the basis of your race, ethnic background or nationality, that would be illegal, and that you would have a right to file a lawsuit against that employer.

But what about language? Some employers discriminate on the basis of language. Yes, they will hire anybody, without discrimination, but once hired, the employer may insist on English being spoken in the workplace. Or, as part of the hiring process, the employer may say that it will only hire English speaking workers.

Is Speech Ethnicity?

This has created some conflict in the law, because technically, speech is not ethnicity; an employer that says someone must speak English may treat and pay that employee the same, regardless of nationality, and thus, the employer may claim it is not discriminating.

But English-only requirements at work have been found by more and more courts to be a form of discrimination in the workplace, and California has laws that prohibit such policies. English only work environments create a hostile work environment to workers of various nationalities, and the law also prohibits discriminating against someone because of their accent, even if they are speaking English at work.

When is Language Discrimination Allowed?

There are times when employers can discriminate on the basis of someone’s accent or language, but those situations are limited. Usually, employers can only discriminate on the basis of accent or language, only when English is required for the safe operation of a business or a public safety function.

So, for example, someone working as an air traffic controller or a 911 phone operator, may be required to speak English, and speak it clearly, as clear communication is a vital function of those businesses.

In some jobs, employees must speak English so that employers can properly supervise what they are saying. For example, if someone were operating a factory machine, he or she might have to understand what a supervisor was saying, in order to operate it, making it acceptable to require that English be spoken at work.

Of course, this would not justify an English only policy on breaks, when talking to coworkers, when making personal phone calls, or when not doing job duties.

Accent Discrimination

An employer cannot discriminate on the basis of accent, just because the employer assumes people won’t like it, or on an assumption that people won’t be able to understand the employee.

Employers are Limited in Requiring English 

In almost no case will an English only policy be legal, where the employee requires it at all times, anywhere, while at work. Employers could not require English to be spoken by an employee during his lunch break, or while chatting with a co-workers.

Contact the San Jose employment lawyers at the Costanzo Law Firm today with questions about your rights as an employee in California if you have been discriminated against on the basis of language or accent.




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