CAUTIONARY TALE EPISODE 67 LANGUAGE LIMITATION LIMITS Business Necessity Required for English-Only Rules « Law Offices of Timothy Bowles | Top Employment Law Firm in Los Angeles

Business Necessity Required for English-Only Rules

Washington and Oregon employer R&SL, operating as “TEAM,” has agreed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to pay $276,000 to certain employees in settlement of a national origin discrimination and retaliation charge.

TEAM had adopted a rule that employees could not speak Spanish and fired five employees who refused to comply. EEOC treats English-only policies that lack business necessity — and apply even when customers are not around or during breaks — as national origin discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

In addition to paying the employees, TEAM also agreed to revamp its policies in both English and Spanish, train employees, have an anonymous complaint procedure, conduct prompt investigations of discrimination and harassment complaints, and provide reports to the EEOC.

Elizbeth Cannon, director of EOC Seattle Field Office Director, stated.  “Employers should think twice before imposing limitations on what languages are ‘allowed’ to be used at work.  Unless there is a legitimate business necessity, such policies are likely to discriminate against workers based on their national origin. We commend TEAM for engaging in the conciliation process and agreeing to take meaningful, comprehensive steps to remedy the issue.”


Under both federal and state laws, employers should not restrict employees speaking in a language other than English if there is no business necessity for doing so, and never when they are on breaks.  Consulting an employment attorney about what constitutes business necessity is a good idea.

For further information, please contact Tim BowlesCindy Bamforth or Helena Kobrin.

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Helena Kobrin
May 26, 2023

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