Human resources questions: Is it OK to require Spanish-speaking employees to speak English while at work?

Tim Twigg and Rebecca Crane clarify the legal guidelines dentists should follow regarding language preference in the workplace.

Q: I have several Spanish-speaking employees who speak Spanish on a regular basis around the office. My non-Spanish-speaking employees are complaining because they don’t know what their coworkers are saying, and it makes them uncomfortable. Would be OK to require the Spanish-speaking employees to speak only English while at work?

A: Language restrictions must be reasonable and based on genuine business needs. “Company preference” for English or the fact that other employees are simply uncomfortable isn’t a good enough reason to ban Spanish from being spoken.

Here are some guidelines as to what constitutes a legitimate business reason, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC):

• For communications with customers or coworkers who speak only English
• When a common language helps promote workplace safety
• To assist in cooperative work in which speaking only English promotes efficiency
• To help a supervisor who speaks only English monitor employee interaction

During breaks, lunches, or otherwise behind closed doors, employees should be allowed to communicate in Spanish if they so choose.

The opinions expressed above are based on the writer’s comprehensive background as a human resources professional and the policies in our Bent Ericksen & Associates products having been reviewed by legal counsel. The writer is not an attorney, and the advice provided in this message should not be construed as a legal opinion. If you have legal questions after considering the advice and reading any materials referenced, it is recommended that you consult with your attorney.

Author bio
Tim Twigg is the president of Bent Ericksen & Associates, and Rebecca Crane is a human resource compliance consultant with Bent Ericksen & Associates. For 30 years, the company has been a leading authority in human resource and personnel issues, helping dentists deal successfully with the ever-changing and complex labor laws. To receive a complimentary copy of the company’s quarterly newsletter or to learn more about its services, call (800) 679-2760 or visit

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