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Can I have an “English-Only” rule for my employees? The short answer is, yes.  The more accurate answer, however, is only under very limited circumstances where there is a justifiable business and/or safety need. 


There are several reasons why businesses would want to require employees to speak the same language: it makes it easier for members of management to understand employees; there could be concerns regarding safety in the workplace; if customers or vendors are around you want to be responsive and not off-putting to them; and it might make it easier to develop a unified company culture. 

The reasons for having an English-only rule is compelling, but the problem is English-only rules demographically disfavor non-U.S. citizens, lawful residents from other countries, people from a different nation of origin, and non-Caucasians. While the road to English-only rules might be paved with good intent, the result is that such rules will statistically impact protected classes of people to their disadvantage. 


When could you consider such a policy?  If there is a legitimate workplace safety concern that could only be overcome with everyone speaking a common language, such a rule might be appropriate. If your employees need to work as a team, a common language rule might be necessary to ensure the efficiency of the project. If the employee will be engaging with customers or vendors, mandating a language they understand can be legitimate.  If you decide to have an English-only rule, create a well-written policy carving out the limited circumstances and reasons behind the policy. 

Thompson Coe and myHRgenius Tip of the Week is not intended as a solicitation, does not constitute legal advice, and does not establish an attorney-client relationship.


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Kevin M. Mosher

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