Employee lawsuits challenge employers’ English‑only policies

Q&A with Nathan Whatley

published in The Oklahoman | July 4, 2017

In June 2017, two Latina workers alleged in a lawsuit that their former employers discriminated against them and created a hostile work environment by subjecting them to racist comments and by forcing them to either comply with their “speak-English-only” policies or be terminated – all despite the fact that their ability to communicate with Spanish-speaking customers was one of the reasons they were hired.

In a Q&A with The Oklahoman, labor and employment lawyer Nathan Whatley explained that while employers are not prohibited from enforcing English-only policies in the workplace, they should proceed with great caution to ensure the policy was not put in place for the purpose of discriminating against employees on the basis of race or national origin, and that such a policy is necessary to further a legitimate business purpose. He added that guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission states that language-restrictive policies may be applied “only to those specific employment situations for which they’re needed to promote safe and efficient job performance or business operations.”

“It should be noted that the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) strongly disfavors such policies and aggressively will scrutinize English-only policies if they’re challenged,” said Whatley.