Fulfilling The Duty To Inform Employees Of Their Rights In The Multilingual Workplace
6/29/2007 7:37:21 PM
The diversification of the American workforce requires many employers to determine whether they have an obligation to ensure that their communications to employees are understood. Understood, in this context, may mean that the communication should be in a language other than English or even Spanish. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, "in the year 2000, approximately 45 million Americans (17.5 percent of the population) spoke a language other than English in the home. Of those individuals, approximately 10.3 million individuals (4.1 percent of the total population) spoke little or no English, an increase from 6.7 million in the year 1990."1 The EEOC has made it abundantly clear that English-only rules are strongly disfavored in absence of a legitimate business need.2 Less clear is whether an employer has an affirmative obligation to communicate to its employees in a language other than English and, if such an obligation exists, when it attaches. Answering these questions requires employers to navigate a sea of statutes, regulations and decisional law. Most of all, it requires a healthy dose of common sense.