By Jonathan K. Driggs, Attorney at Law

“They’re talking about me again,” the employee complains to her manager.  “While I don’t speak their language, I know enough to know they are definitely talking about me and it makes me feel really uncomfortable.”  As a result, the company issues the following new policy:

“In order to encourage an inclusive and respectful workplace, all conversations on the premises must be in English.  Speaking a foreign language while at work is prohibited.”

Uh-oh.  Now trouble’s really brewing because such overly broad “English-only” policies violate EEO laws.  Employers may not issue blanket prohibitions according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission—which frequently goes after employers with these types of policies.  Nevertheless, when a portion of a workforce is fluent in a language other than English, some issues and concerns can develop between groups of employees.  The following is a brief summary of some do’s and don’ts regarding foreign languages while at work, as well as some thoughts on English fluency requirements:

A balanced, respectful approach will go a long way to minimizing problems when it comes to foreign language issues at work.  Happy managing!

This article should not be construed as legal advice.  Copyright ©2013 by Jonathan K. Driggs, Attorney at Law, P.C.  All rights reserved.  Jonathan K. Driggs is an employment law attorney with over 20 years of experience, including 3 years with the Utah Labor Commission.

Jonathan’s popular “Employment Law for Managers Seminar” is being offered by two “Custom Fit Programs” at significantly discounted rates for “for-profit” employers (“Custom Fit Programs” are run by the state of Utah and use state funds to offset the cost of training programs for employers):

For employers in Salt Lake County: Thursday, October 3 at the SLCC Miller Campus in Sandy.  For details and registration contact: Debbie Patten at 801-957-5244.

For employers in Utah County: Thursday, September 26 at the Mountainland Applied Technology College’s Thanksgiving Point campus.  For details and registration contact: Roger Rice at 801-753-4153.

For general information about the contents of Jonathan’s Employment Law for Managers Seminar, see:


Call us at 1-888.221.3630

Contact Us

Get a Quote Now

PAYROLL EXPERTS can call you to discuss any questions you have.