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Are language restrictions at work a form of discrimination?

On Behalf of | May 7, 2024 | Employment Law

Can an employer limit employees to only use English? According to California law, it can be unlawful for an employer to limit or prohibit the use of any language unless justified by a business necessity.

Here is what you should know:

Language discrimination

Discrimination in the workplace based on language occurs in different ways. The common ones are an employer adopting a “speak English only” policy and treating an employee or an applicant unfavorably because of their English proficiency.

An employer may only be allowed to employ a language restriction if it’s justified by business necessity, it’s narrowly tailored and they effectively inform employees of the instances and time when the language restriction is required and the consequences of not observing it.

What is a business necessity?

In this context, a “business necessity” means a lawful business purpose, such that the language restriction is vital to the safe and efficient operations of the business. Further, the language restriction must effectively fulfill the business purpose.

The employer needs to prove that no other alternative policy to the language restriction can be enforced to achieve the business goals just as effectively.

What about accent discrimination?

An employee may be fluent in English but may be discriminated against because of their accent. This type of discrimination can also be unlawful. An employer needs to prove that an employee’s or an applicant’s accent will have a significant negative impact on their ability to perform their job to justify any “unfavorable action.”

Colleagues and seniors making fun of someone’s accent can also be considered a form of discrimination.

Discrimination in the workplace based on language and accent is not uncommon. If you believe you have experienced this type of discrimination, consider legal guidance to protect your rights.