Can Employers Require Employees to Speak English Only in the Workplace?

accent national origin discrimination Jul 05, 2022

Florida businesses often ask about the laws regarding hiring bilingual employees and whether they can require employees to only speak English in the workplace. Do you know if employers can legally do the following?

  •  Require job candidates to be bilingual
  •  Only hire English speaking employees
  •  Hire Spanish speaking employees and provide them with an interpreter/bilingual co-worker to assist

Here is what the EEOC says regarding these topics:

Federal and state employment laws protect employees from discrimination based on national origin. National origin includes language and accent.

Discrimination Based on Accent

In general, employers cannot treat employees differently (refuse to hire, fire, demote, not give certain job assignments, etc) because of an foreign accent. Treating employees differently because they have a foreign accent is lawful only if the accent materially interferes with being able to do the job. Here are a few scenarios where employers can base employment decisions on an accent:

  •  effective oral communication in English is required to perform the job and the individual's foreign accent materially interferes with his ability to communicate orally in English.
  •  Jobs that may require effective oral communication in English include teaching, customer service, and telemarketing to English speaking clients.

If the work situation does not fall into these categories, businesses should proceed with caution when making employment decisions based on an accent.

Requirement for Employees to Speak English Only in the Workplace

It is illegal to require employees to only speak English in the workplace unless the employer can show that they are justified by business necessity. 

Employers may require employees to speak English during certain times when justified by business necessity, such as if needed for safety reasons/to promote safety and to speak with English-speaking customers and co-workers during work times. However, businesses should typically allow Spanish and other languages to be spoken by employees at lunch and while on break.

For Informational Purposes only. This does not constitute legal advice or create an attorney client relationship. Karly Wannos is licensed to practice law in Florida only. Please consult with an attorney before making any legal decisions. 

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