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Can we require that employees speak only English in the workplace?

Though employers may have a general English language requirement when necessary for safe and efficient operations, they should be careful about imposing English-only rules at all times in the workplace. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) views rules requiring employees to speak English at all times at work as a burdensome condition of employment and will closely scrutinize such rules. See 29 CFR 1606.7.

The EEOC notes that limiting employees' ability to speak their language of origin at all times can create an "atmosphere of inferiority, isolation, and intimidation based on national origin." Rules such as those restricting language could discriminate against employees because of their national origin and, therefore, violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

Employers may legitimately require employees to speak English during certain times when justified by business necessity, such as if needed for safety reasons and to speak with English-speaking customers and co-workers during work times. By contrast, English-only rules applied to rest and meal breaks will rarely be justified. 

For more information on this and related topics, see the EEOC's Fact Sheet: Immigrants' Employment Rights under Federal Anti-Discrimination Laws.


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