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Blog  »  March 2017  »  Requiring staff to only speak English at work can be lawful - Blog
Mar 17

Posted by
Laura Murphy

Requiring staff to only speak English at work can be lawful

The WRC recently dismissed a claim brought by a Polish employee that alleged she had been discriminated against on the grounds of race. The Complainant in this case was told she had to speak English when working alongside colleagues who did not speak Polish.

The Company in question employed 838 people from 14 countries. The employee was asked by their supervisor to speak English while working on the factory line. The employee subsequently brought a discrimination claim against the Company. The Company argued that there was a business case for having one official language in the business.

The WRC found in favour of the employer based on evidence that they had provided diversity workshops, and had acted in good faith by asking the employee to speak English so as not to exclude other colleagues.

Learning Points

This is an area where employers need to thread carefully in order to avoid discrimination.

Generally, it is possible to limit the use of languages other than English at work, provided that the policy:

  • applies to all nationalities
  • there are justifiable (and non-discriminatory) reasons for imposing the policy.

Some possible acceptable reasons may include:

  • Health and safety implications
  • Security risks
  • Impact on workplace effectiveness

It is advisable that requests to speak English should only apply to operational activities. Discussions at break times or in the canteen should be exempt. 

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