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Posted on April 4, 2023
The Seattle office of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently announced a $276,000 settlement with an employment agency for a claim of national origin discrimination and retaliation for its ban on speaking Spanish in the workplace. The employment agency was also ordered to update its policies, provide training, and take other measures that will be monitored over the next four years pursuant to its settlement agreement.
Why should an EEOC case from Seattle matter? Because employers across the country with non-native English speakers comprising a significant portion of their workforce often wonder whether they can impose a ban on speaking languages other than English in the workplace.
If there is no legitimate business necessity for such a rule, it may violate federal and state laws against discrimination based on national origin. In this case, the EEOC found that there was no such business reason for the rule and that the employment agency’s firing of five employees for continuing to speak Spanish was unlawful retaliation.
The EEOC’s announcement of the settlement indicates that the no-Spanish rule was far too broad, as it included times when employees were away from customers, and even when they were on breaks from work. Had the ban been narrowly tailored to times when the employees were in the presence of customers, there may have been a different result.
The EEOC has published guidance (linked) on national origin discrimination, with significant attention to language issues.
AIM members with questions about their workplace policies or any other human resources matters should contact the AIM Employer Hotline at 800-470-6277.