NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Language Discrimination

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.


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