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English-only rules at work could expose employers to lawsuits

New York is home to many immigrants, and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 bars employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of national origin. Discrimination, however, can take many forms, and English-only rules at workplaces represent one possible one.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission might accept rules about language use if the rule applies to limited situations. The position of a public speaker whose purpose is to communicate with English-speaking people provides one example of when an English requirement would be valid. Such a situation illustrates a business necessity for the rule.

The EEOC would not approve of blanket rules about English usage that apply at all times in a workplace. The commission interprets these English-only requirements as discriminatory. They could block an employee who does not speak English from opportunities for employment or advancement. Such rules could also have an isolating effect on people at work. Someone who does not speak English or speak it well might even feel intimidated.

Many federal and state laws establish employee rights. However, while the EEOC is clear in its position on English-only requirements, courts across the country have varied in their rulings on these types of matters. Some have ruled in favor of plaintiffs who have been terminated by their employers as a result of violating these requirements, while others have held that Title VII was not intend to cover these rules. A person who has been fired or otherwise retaliated against for not speaking English on the job may want to meet with an employment law attorney to see what recourse, if any, may be available.

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