National origin is among the protected classes under both Florida state law and federal law when it comes to employment. That means Florida employers are prohibited from discriminating against an applicant or employee based on where they were born or the nationality of their family or ancestors.
The law pertains to more than limiting people’s ability to get a job or get ahead because of their national origin. It also protects employees from being forbidden from speaking their native language (or their family’s native language) in the workplace if it has no effect on their or others’ ability to do their job.
Unfortunately, some employers implement an “English only” or even a “No Spanish” policy in their workplaces because they or others feel uncomfortable or left out when they hear employees speaking a language they don’t understand. That can be true even if two employees are conversing with one another in the lunchroom in a private conversation or an employee is talking to an older family member on the phone who doesn’t speak English while they’re on a break or after they’ve finished work.
The DOL provides details on when English can be required
Certainly, in most workplaces, even in South Florida, English is the predominant language. The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) allows employers to require employees to use English under the following circumstances:
- When they’re communicating with people (employees, customers, vendors and others) who speak English.
- When they’re involved in “cooperative work assignments”
- When an employer is monitoring or assessing their work
- In an emergency or safety-related event
It’s important for employees (and, of course, employers) to know the law. Whether you or others choose to speak up if your employer has an English only policy is up to you.
It can certainly be upsetting to have people interrupting private conversations that have nothing to do with them to tell you to “speak English” or mock your language. It can be even more upsetting if you’re later asked for your help communicating with a customer or someone else who doesn’t speak English.
If you have been disciplined for speaking another language in a non-work-related conversation or if your employer’s policy has created a hostile environment, you have every right to speak up and protect your rights. If that doesn’t help, it may be worthwhile to seek legal guidance.