An English-only office policy?

February 3, 2006

My bilingual front desk staff often converse in their native language, in the presence of patients who speak only English. I'm concerned that patients may wonder if the staffers are talking about them and feel uncomfortable. Can I require my bilingual staff to speak English only, unless they need to communicate with a patient in his native language?

Q: My bilingual front desk staff often converse in their native language, in the presence of patients who speak only English. I'm concerned that patients may wonder if the staffers are talking about them and feel uncomfortable. Can I require my bilingual staff to speak English only, unless they need to communicate with a patient in his native language?

A: Possibly. The law permits employers to adopt English-only rules under certain circumstances. However, your policy must be in response to a specific problem in your office, and must be narrowly tailored to address that issue. Moreover, you can't bar employees from speaking their native language during breaks or in an employees' rest area.