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Language discrimination in the workplace

As California workers may know, legal protections are in place under the 1964 Civil Rights Act to combat acts of discrimination, including those of national origin. However, those who do not speak English as a first language may be subject to discrimination when an employer insists on communication using only English and may penalize workers who communicate in another language.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is against the practice of using only English in companies with a diversity of languages. While some courts have agreed with the EEOC with regard to language use, others have not, saying that Title VII under the act does not refer to language. Those courts have denied workers' claims of discrimination.

While requiring that only English be spoken is needed in certain positions, such as in reaching an English-speaking audience, many jobs might not have this requirement. Employers are required by the EEOC to provide employees with notice before implementing an English-only rule. Those who do not may be considered in violation of discrimination due to national origin by the commission. According to the EEOC, by barring an employee from speaking in a language other than English at work, this may put immigrants at a disadvantage. It may create a divisive work atmosphere for that person by suggesting that other languages and people are inferior.

A worker who has been a victim of employment discrimination because of a workplace rule that allows only English being spoken may have recourse to protect his or her rights. An attorney may be able to assist by explaining how the law works to protect employees and by providing legal advice that pertains to the situation.

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