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English only: Policy for inclusion or workplace discrimination?

In a country where the people are made up of a variety of backgrounds and ethnicities, it is not surprising that many people speak more than one language. Being bilingual can help break language barriers, but it could also cause tension between co-workers if not all employees are bilingual. Some companies may choose to establish a standard that only one language may be spoken while on the clock, but taking that route could bring up questions about discrimination and whether such standards are appropriate for the workplace.

This issue could gain attention in Florida as Verizon Wireless executives in Tampa Bay have told employees -- though not formally -- that English is the only language that should be spoken while workers are on duty unless they are using another language to assist customers. The reasoning behind the language suggestion is that speaking a language that not all employees understand can make other workers feel excluded and possibly lead to tension in the workplace. Executives wish to promote good relations between employees and avoid making others feel uncomfortable.

Though speaking English is not necessarily an official policy of the company, some interested parties wonder if implementing such a language standard is allowable. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, companies can create language standards as long as they are not intended to discriminate against one or more groups of people or certain individuals. However, even if such a policy is implemented without the intention to discriminate, there may be some individuals who feel that they are being targeted in a racist manner.

Situations such as this one can be difficult for employees to navigate and understand if such a policy is being enforced for correct reasons. It has been known that superiors in many different industries have used their authority to take part in workplace discrimination, and implementing a language standard could have grounds in excluding certain individuals though it is veiled as a policy to create inclusion. Having a better understanding of Florida employment laws could help individuals better discern whether they are being the victims of workplace discrimination.

Source: The Tampa Tribune, Verizon tells employees English only, please, Richard Mullins, Aug. 23, 2013

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