Speaking Spanish in the Workplace

The ability to speak Spanish is an asset in the workplace. Many job postings seek candidates that speak both English and Spanish and your bilingual skills can move you up in the application process. However, some positions and organizations may have a different approach when it comes to language use in the workplace.

So, there are rules about speaking Spanish in the workplace?

Unfortunately, yes. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) Regulation 29 C.F.R. § 1606.7(a), provides that a rule requiring employees to speak only English at all times in the workplace is a burdensome term and condition of employment. It may only be used when necessary for business (DOL.gov). 

So when would these “English-only rules” apply?

A workplace English-only rule can only be applied in circumstances where it is necessary to conduct business, such as:

  • For communications with customers, coworkers, or supervisors who only speak English
  • In emergencies or other situations in which employees must speak a common language to promote safety
  • For cooperative work assignments in which the English-only rule is needed to promote efficiency
  • To enable a supervisor who only speaks English to monitor the performance of an employee whose job duties require communication in English with coworkers or customers

Things to take note of:

  • Employers who adopt an English-only rule must inform their affected employees of when the rule is applied and the consequences of violating the rule. 
  • The rule must be used for nondiscriminatory reasons only
    • For example, the rule must apply to all foreign languages in the workplace. An employer cannot just implement a “no-Spanish rule”: that would be unlawful. 
  • It is illegal for an employer to use a policy or practice that has a negative impact on people of a certain national origin and is not job-related or necessary to the operation of the business. 
  • The “English-only rule” cannot be applied to casual conversations between co-workers during breaks or when not performing a job duty. 
  • Furthermore, employment decisions cannot be based on a candidate or employee’s accent, unless it seriously interferes with the operation of the business. 

Learn more about National Origin Discrimination and how to file a report of discrimination here.

By Hannah Halloran
Hannah Halloran Graduate Assistant, Programming Hannah Halloran