Many immigrants in New Jersey speak other languages besides English while they are working. Foreign-born workers may use the language that they are most comfortable with to speak with coworkers or customers who also speak that language. Some employers try to prevent workers from using other languages by imposing English-only rules.
English-only rules may result in discrimination against employees who do not speak English as a first language. Though courts are divided on the matter, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has maintained a strong position against English-only rules. According to the EEOC, English-only rules are often used as a form of national origin discrimination. Employers that impose full-time English-only rules may create a hostile work environment for foreign workers.
English-only rules are not considered discriminatory if they are used in specific situations for business necessity. For example, a person who is paid to speak to English speakers would be required to use English while performing that job function. If an employer wants to implement an English-only rule for business necessity, it must inform workers about the rule. A worker who is fired for not speaking English when there was no English-only rule could sue the employer for national origin discrimination.
Co-workers who are told that they cannot speak in their native language while doing work that does not involve customer service may have a case for filing a workplace discrimination claim. An attorney may be able to represent workers who have experienced this kind of discrimination and help them to argue that an employer’s English-only rule was not a business necessity.