Can my Employer Enforce an English-Only Policy?

Questions concerning English-only policies are very common in places with large immigrant populations such as Los Angeles. Let’s say that several employees are from the same country, employed by a business here in the United States. After overhearing the employees all speaking to one another in their native language, the employer requests that they all speak English, even when there are no customers around. Is this a legal request or could this fall under discrimination?

When English-only Policies are Legal or Illegal

As a generality, rules that require employees to speak English only in the workplace are permitted if they are established in a non-discriminatory manner. English only policies can be made for the benefit of the company as a whole, such as if the customers, supervisors, and coworkers only speak English, if English only policies need to be enforced for workplace safety reasons, if the policy will help the effectiveness and efficiency of cooperative assignments, and if English-speaking supervisors need to monitor employee conversation with customers.

Times when an English-only policy could be illegal include:

  • Banning employees from speaking other languages even on breaks
  • Excessively scrutinizing employees who speak foreign languages
  • Banning just one particular language from being spoken in the workplace
  • Enforcing an English-only policy if customers and coworkers speak multiple languages

If your employer implemented an English-only policy, the motive behind it has a lot to do with determining the legality of such a policy. For example, if the employer simply doesn’t want to listen to another language spoken, that could be considered illegal. However, if the employer wants everyone to communicate on the same page so that there are no safety issues or other complications, then the English-only policy may be legitimate.

If you believe that you are being specifically targeted for speaking another language because of your nationality, you could be eligible to pursue a claim. At Alan Burton Newman, PLC, our attorney is backed by more than 30 years of experience in employment law.

Contact a Los Angeles employment law attorney today for a free consultation!