Laws covering workplace discrimination can look bewildering to a harried manager. For example, laws protecting people based on national origin include protection for workers speaking various languages.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has issued an update of protection based on employees’ language backgrounds. Protection comes under several broad areas:
Accent Discrimination: Under Title VII, an employment decision might legitimately be based on an individual’s accent if the accent “interferes materially with job performance.” To meet this standard, an employer must provide evidence showing that: (1) effective spoken communication in English is required to perform job duties; and (2) the individual’s accent materially interferes with his/her ability to communicate in spoken English.
Fluency Requirements: English Fluency. Generally, an English fluency or English proficiency requirement is permissible only if required for the effective performance of the position for which it is imposed. Fluency in Languages Other Than English. Requiring fluency in a language other than English is only permissible if it is required for the effective performance of the position for which it is imposed.
English-Only Rules and Other Restrictive Language Policies: Policies Adopted for Discriminatory Reasons — A restrictive language policy violates Title VII if it is adopted for discriminatory reasons; and, Policies Applied in a Discriminatory Manner — Regardless of whether a restrictive language policy was adopted for nondiscriminatory reasons, the policy cannot be applied differently to employees because of their national origin.
Notice and Enforcement of Restrictive Language Policy. Employers must provide adequate notice of language-restrictive policies.