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Do I have to speak English at work?

Both California and federal law forbid employers from discriminating on the basis of national origin. Language discrimination is part of this.

There may be some legitimate reasons for employers to require that employees know how to speak English. However, employers generally cannot forbid workers from speaking other languages in personal conversations.

When can my job make me speak English?

Employers can require English at work when it is a "business necessity." Generally, this means that English must be necessary to make the business safe and efficient. Some common situations where English can be required include the following:

  • Your job requires you to talk to customers, and your customers speak English
  • You work in a risky environment (like a construction site or operating room) and speaking English is important for everyone's safety
  • Your supervisor needs everyone to speak English while working, so he or she can be sure that employees are being productive and having appropriate conversations

Employers who want to require workers to speak English must have an official English-only policy. They must give workers notice of this policy.

What if I speak with an accent?

If your employer wants to deny you an opportunity because of your accent, they must show a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for doing so. Your employer must show a real reason why having an accent will limit your ability to perform your job functions.

The same rule applies when an employer denies an opportunity because a worker does not speak English fluently.

Whether this type of conduct counts as discrimination depends on the unique circumstances of the business, the worker's language ability and the nature of the job.

Can I speak my native language with my friends?

Generally, your employer can't prohibit you from speaking a language other than English while you're on break or performing non-work activities. Employers who want to strictly forbid all languages other than English must prove that the rule is necessary for conducting business.

Rules forbidding foreign languages might be discrimination if any of these circumstances are present:

  • They are used to create a hostile work environment
  • They are applied unfairly
  • They are applied to workers with limited or no English skills
  • They are not for a legitimate business purpose

You don't have to tolerate an unsafe or discriminatory work environment. If your employer is treating you unfairly, take some time to talk to an employment discrimination lawyer. Initial consultations are usually free, and most lawyers do not charge a fee unless you win your case.

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14724 Ventura Boulevard, Suite 1210
Sherman Oaks, CA 91403

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