An interesting post from Jonathan Turley :
There is an interesting lawsuit against an academic institution in Colorado. Spanish-speaking custodial workers at the Auraria Higher Education Center in Colorado are suing over the failure of the Center to give them instructions in Spanish — alleging that they have faced unsafe conditions over the use of English rather than Spanish. The case suggests that the use of Spanish can not only be legally required but that the use of English can constitute a type of unsafe workplace.While it certainly seems more effective to communicate with employees in a language they understand, does the failure to do so give rise to an actionable claim for an unsafe workplace?
Blaine Nickeson, an AHEC vice president, said that the AHEC does offer some translations, but that it cannot be required to use native languages for all of its employees.
Note that the case is brought by Spanish speaking workers, ignoring for the moment that they happen to be custodial workers. We can’t assume that all their workers who speak a language other than English are also Spanish speaking, so is the duty to communicate with every worker in their native language? Turley doesn’t think so.
I cannot see how using English as the primary form of communication in the United States can be the basis for discrimination or an unsafe work environment. If schools are legally required to speak the language of custodians and other employees, can they refuse to hire non-English speaking employees or would that be a form of discrimination based on national origin?In some of the comments to his post, the reaction was “if they want to hire Spanish speaking custodians, then they have to give them instructions in Spanish.” Implicit in this rationale is that they could refuse to hire Spanish speaking custodians because they are Spanish speaking. Is that really the best outcome?
Similarly, many argue that this is America and they ought to speak English. Then there is always the “foreigners stole our jerbs” view, because so many Americans are clamoring for those custodian positions so they’re not relegated to pushing lawn mowers.
It seems that there is no question but that hiring non-English speaking employees would compel an employer to make a reasonable effort to create effective means of communication for the benefit of everyone. It doesn’t do the employer or employee any good to have an inherent breakdown in communication, and it certainly isn’t in anyone’s interest to have anyone get hurt.
“Too many things have happened to me there that I don’t even know how to explain it,” said Auraria custodian Bertha Ribota.
Ribota said she was injured at work because she couldn’t read a warning sign that was in English.
“If I could speak English I wouldn’t have the problems that exist,” said Ribota.
The same, of course, could be said of people who come to the United States to work, that it would be in their interest to learn English. Of course, that’s easier said than done, and even if they do, they have to eat until they’ve achieved a sufficient level of mastery that they can read the sign that says “don’t stick your head inside machine while blades are turning.”
While Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires employers to provide “reasonable accommodations” in the cases of religion and disability, it does not require an employer to communicate with every employee in his or her native language. The question isn’t whether it’s a good idea to do so, but whether the law requires an employer to do so.
Like Turley, I don’t see how it could work or be enforceable. If an employer has a staff that speaks 5 languages other than English (or make that 20, or 50), would the employer be required to have supervisors who speak those languages as well, signs for every language, perhaps translators working full time?
The alternative is that the law would have to allow employers to discriminate based on language, which implicates national origin, so that he could have staff speaking only one or two foreign languages, and then it would be relatively manageable to have supervisors or translators to manage the Babel.
But these are inherently burdensome on an employer and pretty ineffective means of dealing with the problem. What if your one Mandarin speaking custodian quit and was replaced by a Ukrainian? The problems are endless.
The obvious “solution” is for foreign language speaking employees to learn English (or for everyone to agree to speak Spanish) so that there is only one language in the workplace, but that’s a fantasy solution, impractical as well. And yet who can blame employees for not wanting to get hurt?