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Can you be fired for speaking a foreign language at work?

Arizona workplaces are more diverse than those in many other states. It's not uncommon to have multiple people working in a business whose first language isn't English.

Some employers are more comfortable with employees speaking another language with colleagues or customers than others. In fact, in Arizona businesses open to the public, such as restaurants and stores, it's often helpful to have employees who are fluent in Spanish.

Some employers, however, have implemented English-only rules. They may believe that it's not helpful to employee morale when workers speak to each other in a language that some of their co-workers can't understand, even if they're having a conversation not related to business.

Are such policies legal? More importantly, can someone be fired for speaking a language other than English in the workplace?

Most workplace discrimination laws are based on Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. That law forbids discrimination on the basis of characteristics including national origin.

The EEOC has put regulations in place regarding full-time English-only restrictions. Its position is that a complete ban on other languages can create a discriminatory environment. It can also place some workers at a disadvantage regarding potential employment opportunities if they're never able to speak in the language they know best.

Employers are given some leeway on requiring employees to speak English when their job requires it. However, employers must give workers sufficient notice before enforcing this rule.

Judges, however, have not been consistent in their rulings when employees who were fired for not following English-only policies took the matter to court. Some have ruled in favor of the plaintiffs. Others have said that Title VII does not address the matter of speaking another language in the workplace.

If you believe that you have been unfairly discriminated against in the workplace or wrongfully terminated for this reason, it may be wise to discuss the specific circumstances with an Arizona employment law attorney. He or she can help you determine whether you have a viable discrimination case.

Source: FindLaw, "National Origin Discrimination and English-Language Only Rules," accessed June 15, 2018

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