January 23, 1997
Employers are frustrated when employees refuse to speak English to business customers and fellow employees. They are outraged when those same employees file discrimination suits against English-only workplace rules, as rising numbers of them are doing.
- Nearly two dozen states have passed laws declaring English the official state language and several recent decisions by federal appeals courts have upheld English-only rules in the workplace.
- Employers think not using English is not only rude and inefficient, but a threat to safety in such places as oil refineries, hospital facilities or production lines -- where the need to communicate is essential.
- But the federal government's Equal Employment Opportunity Commission disagrees -- publishing guidelines for employers stating that such rules discriminate against some people born in other countries.
The EEOC has sued some employers for creating a "hostile work environment" and gotten employers to sign consent decrees agreeing to drop English-only policies. Neither the Supreme Court nor federal appeals courts have been much help in clearing up the dispute -- although a San Francisco appeals court has said that EEOC guidelines are invalid in all but certain circumstances, leaving the matter open to further dispute.
Source: Ann Davis, "English-Only Rules Spur Workers to Speak Legalese," Wall Street Journal, January 23, 1997.
Browse more articles on Government Issues