Monday, January 25, 2010

English-Only Rules Comes to a Yale-Area Book Store

Books From the New York Times:

A popular bookstore and cafe near Yale University wants its many Hispanic employees to speak only English around customers, sparking controversy in immigrant-friendly New Haven, where students fight for immigrant rights.

Atticus Bookstore and Cafe recently issued a policy stating that English should be the only language spoken on the floor and behind the counter. ''Spanish is allowed in the prep area, the dishwasher area and the lower level. Let's make our customers feel welcome and comfortable,'' the policy states, according to New Haven Workers Association, a group of activists who said employees gave them a copy.

''I'm really appalled,'' said Tim Stewart-Winter, a Yale lecturer. ''As a New Haven resident and member of the Yale community, I think diversity is a strength of this country.''

Stewart-Winter said he likes to take out-of-town guests to Atticus, but may not now because of the policy.

As we have pointed out before, the EEOC generally frowns on English-only rules enforced at all times.  However, when English is only required at certain times (e.g., when talking to customers), the EEOC permits such policies if required by a business necessity ("An employer may have a rule requiring that employees speak only in English at certain times where the employer can show that the rule is justified by business necessity."). 

As to whether the comfort of customers is an acceptable "business necessity," the EEOC has looked to see if an English-Only rule was adopted for nondiscriminatory reasons rather than, for example, motivated by a discriminatory intent based on national origin. So, some courts have found that an English-only rule is justified by "business necessity" if it is needed for an employer to operate safely or efficiently. One such  example involves communications with customers, coworkers, or supervisors who only speak English.

Of course, it is not possible to say what the case is in this situation for sure, but there does continue to be many complaints over English-Only policies that the EEOC fields.

Hat Tip: Michael O'Hear


Employment Discrimination, Workplace Trends | Permalink

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