Language Discrimination Essay

649 Words3 Pages
Are English-only rules and language fluency requirements legal under employment and discrimination laws? Federal law prohibits discrimination based on national origin, which includes a person's ancestry, birthplace, culture, or surnames associated with a particular ethnicity. Because linguistic characteristics -- the language an employee speaks and the accent an employee uses -- are often associated with national origin, English-only and language fluency policies can be discriminatory in some cases. At the same time, however, there may be legitimate reasons for job requirements based on linguistic characteristics, such as requiring that employees be fluent in English or speak in a way that can be easily understood by customers and coworkers. Although linguistic rules will be scrutinized carefully by courts to make sure they aren't discriminatory, those rules are legal if they are necessary for business reasons. (For more information on laws prohibiting national origin discrimination more generally, see Nolo's article Fighting Race and National Origin Discrimination.) Fluency Requirements A job requirement that an employee must be fluent in English is legal if fluency is required to effectively perform the position. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency that interprets and enforces the laws prohibiting discrimination, has pointed out that the degree of fluency required varies from job to job, even within the same company. Therefore, blanket fluency requirements that apply equally to the customer service department and the warehouse workers might not be legal. The same rules apply when a job requires fluency in a language other than English. For example, a company that has many customers who speak only Mandarin Chinese could legally require that employees who will interact with those customers also speak Mandarin Chinese.
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