Is requiring employees to speak English a fair condition of employment within privately owned American companies? The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission certainly does not think so. It filed a federal suit against Wisconsin Plastics Inc. for firing a group of Hmong and Hispanic workers in 2012, allegedly based on their inability to speak English, according to a report from Judicial Watch.
The EEOC contends that this Green Bay-based company violated Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which “protects employees from discrimination based on national origin, which includes the linguistic characteristics of a national origin group.”
Based on that reading, one could infer that requiring employees to speak English could be interpreted as a form of employment discrimination. On the other hand, it would seem necessary for employers and employees to speak the same language in order to be able to communicate easily.
However, EEOC authorities disagree with the notion that English was necessary to perform the job duties of the laid-off employees. Even further, it disagrees with the idea that it should be a natural thought that employees of American companies must speak English:
“Our experience at the EEOC has been that so-called ‘English only’ rules and requirements of English fluency are often employed to make what is really discrimination appear acceptable,” said EEOC regional attorney John C. Hendrickson.
The company in question has come out vehemently against the EEOC’s allegations, claiming that the decision to lay off the workers was “made on the basis of the employees’ overall comparative skills, behaviors and job performance over time.”
According to the current EEOC guidelines, English-only rules only apply when it’s crucial “for an employer to operate safely or efficiently.” However, there currently are no standard tests to determine how necessary English-fluency is to an employee-employer relationship as it relates to a specific job.