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Are English-only rules at work national origin discrimination?

Some businesses in California and across the nation are implementing rules that require their employees to speak only English at the workplace. Rules like this are considered discriminatory by some, including the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. English-only rules at workplaces could be legal under certain circumstances, but they could also be legal discrimination under others.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate against someone based on the person’s national origin. When an employer enforces a rule that requires employees to speak English exclusively, it could be a method of discriminating against immigrants, since language is an inextricable part of a person’s national heritage.

The EEOC has passed regulations that prevent employers from enforcing English-only rules full time. Part-time English-only rules are allowed if there is a valid reason for the rule to exist, for example, if a person is being paid to speak to a primarily English-speaking audience. The view of the EEOC is that full-time English-only rules discriminate against immigrants from non-English speaking countries by barring them from employment or creating a hostile work environment for those who speak English as a second language. The courts ultimately decide cases of alleged discrimination involving English-only rules at work.

Someone who believes they have been discriminated against by their employer or a prospective employer may have a legal workplace discrimination claim, but employers do have certain rights as well. Many people who suspect they have suffered discrimination are uncertain as to whether the employer actually violated the law. Someone in this type of situation could consult with an attorney to help them to understand their legal rights and determine if they want to file a discrimination claim.