English-Only Rules Explained

This blog will primarily benefit the employer. For those unfamiliar with the concept, English-only rules require employees to speak only English at work. English-only rules are permissible if they are adopted for nondiscriminatory reasons. But in reality, implementing such a policy is always dicey.

A recent court case ruled against a hospital’s implementation of the English-only rule. Hospitals maintained a work rule necessitating employees to communicate only in English when conducting business within the hospital’s premises, with each other, or with patients nearby. Also, employees were required to communicate between staff and patients, visitors and customers, only in English, unless it was obvious that conversing in a different language was necessary. These parameters sound reasonable, but they might infringe on the National Labor Relations Act—the Judge agreed that they did.

The National Labor Relations Act protects employees against discouragement of conversation that can be construed as protected concerted activity. This usually includes things such as a health benefits, salaries, managerial ethics, personal opinion about infrastructure, etc. In short, it grants employees the right to discuss work conditions with each other.

In the mentioned case, it was found that the English-only rule was implemented in order to prohibit employees from engaging in concerted activity. The judge found that it “infringes on an employee’s ability to freely discuss and communicate about work conditions, wages and other terms and conditions of employment.” So, if you are implementing an English-only rule to censor a free flow of information, presumably inaccessible to management, then you are likely to meet opposition—opposition that may be difficult to defend against.

In conclusion, any employer hoping to implement an English-only rule ought to consult an attorney before doing so. It has been shown that the policy can be dicey, but that is not to say it is impossible to disperse and enforce.