Is it legal for an employer to require all its employees to speak English? Would it be illegal if an employer refused to hire you if your English wasn’t “good enough” or if you have an accent? This guide explains.
Can an Employer Require Employees to Speak English?
In some cases, it’s legal for an employer to require employees to speak English. For example, if you want a job working in a technical support center for North American clients, it’s okay for the employer to require you to speak English. That’s because the people calling into the support center most likely speak English – and they may only speak English, so speaking to them in another language won’t help anyone. The company does not have to hire you if you can’t fulfill the job’s requirements; in this case, the job requires you to speak English.
However, it’s important that you know that the employer has to show that requiring employees to speak English is actually a business necessity. Let’s say that an employer has a rule that you may speak only English when you’re on the manufacturing floor. The rule is in place for safety reasons; if you were to tell someone to watch out for a hazard speaking a language that that person didn’t understand, people could get hurt.
But if the rule is arbitrary and isn’t a business necessity, it may be an unlawful rule. For example, if you work as a baker who never encounters customers at the counter and all of your colleagues speak the same language you do, it may be unlawful for your employer to require you to speak only English. In fact, it could be a form of national origin discrimination.
Related: Examples of language discrimination in the workplace
What if Your English Isn’t “Good Enough” for a Job?
Employers can, in some cases, require your English language skills to be at or above a certain level. For example, if you’re applying for a job as a journalist at a newspaper that’s only published in English, your employer can require you to be proficient in the language. Likewise, if you’re interviewing for a job as a customer service representative whose primary duty will be answering the phones for calls from English-speakers, your employer can require you to be proficient in English.
Related: Can a job deny you time off for religious reasons?
What About Accents?
However, employers are not allowed to discriminate against you because you have an accent unless your accent would severely interfere with your ability to perform the job. That means employers can’t use your accent against you if it won’t impair your ability to get the job done. In that case, employers can’t use your accent in any employment decision, including hiring, firing, promoting or reassignment, training or any other aspect of employment.
Related: What are my legal rights to sue an employer?
Who Has to Prove English is Necessary?
The employer is required to show that English-only rules are necessary; otherwise, the rules can be found discriminatory. For example, if you work for a restaurant and your employer has an English-only rule for cooks in the kitchen, it must show that the rule is necessary for the employer to conduct business.
Related: What’s national origin discrimination?
What if You Don’t Think an Employer’s English-Only Rule is Fair?
Whether you’re in the hiring process or you’re already working for an employer that has an English-only rule, you may not believe the rule is fair. You can always ask the employer why it has an English-only rule if you’re curious – but if you believe the rule is unfair and causes your employer to discriminate against you or others, you may want to speak with an attorney.
Do You Need to Talk to a Lawyer About an Employer’s Requirement That Employees Speak Only English?
If you’d like to speak with an attorney about an employer’s English-only rule, we may be able to help you. Call us at 818-230-8380 or fill out the form below to schedule your free consultation with a lawyer.