South Florida has a very diverse population. Unfortunately, not everyone appreciates the benefits of diversity. As a business owner, if any of your managers or supervisors are among those people, you could find yourself dealing with a discrimination lawsuit.
Of all the employment protections under both federal and Florida state law, one of the most misunderstood may be that of national origin. Not only can someone not be discriminated against or harassed due to their national origin (or what someone perceives as their national origin). They can’t be discriminated against based on where their parents, grandparents or ancestors came from, the national origin of their spouse or their immigration status.
Even if employers and their management team know better than to mock, harass or otherwise discriminate against someone specifically because they were born in another country, other types of actions related to national origin are also considered discriminatory.
Discrimination based on English fluency
For example, a person should never be mocked or criticized for their accent or for not knowing the English word for something. Unless a person’s fluency in English is relevant to their ability to do their job (for example, if they are a customer service representative), it cannot be the basis for negative consequences, including demotion or termination.
Blanket English-only policies are typically prohibited
The U.S. Department of Labor is very specific about under what conditions an employee can be required to speak English. It says, “A workplace English-only rule that is applied only at certain times may be adopted only under very limited circumstances that are justified by business necessity.”
You can certainly require an employee to speak English to customers (unless the customer needs to communicate in another language) or to colleagues in work-related discussions. However, you can’t legally prohibit employees from speaking their native language to one another in a private conversation during lunch or on a break, even on business property.
The best way to prevent accusations (and potentially legal action) involving discrimination is to know the law and make sure that those who work for you – particularly those who manage employees – know it, abide by it and enforce it. If you find yourself facing allegations of employment discrimination, it’s crucial to have legal guidance.