Coworkers Won’t Speak English

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about not speaking the same language:

I work at a fast food restaurant and the people I work with are always speaking in Spanish. I’m the only one that does not understand.I feel that we are a team and why make me feel like an outsider? I have asked them not to do that and it’s like they don’t hear me. This is the U.S. and our language is English.

Signed, Shut Out

Dear Shut Out:

We’ve researched this in the past, because of questions such as yours, and found that a number of court cases have established that in most workplaces employees can only be required to speak English if it is a work necessity. For example:*When helping clients and customers, unless the customer needs assistance in the other language. *When the conversation is directly about work. *When the conversation is about something that all employees should know or would benefit from hearing, even though it is directed to only one individual. (Sam, the XYZ machine isn’t working so we’ll have to use the ABC one until we get the other one fixed.)Generally, employees cannot be prohibited from speaking their native language in personal conversations, especially away from the immediate work area. It doesn’t constitute a hostile work environment for others, for them to do so.Legal aspects aside, English-speaking employees can feel completely shut out of the social aspects of work when the majority of other employees choose to speak another language. The same would be true if English speaking employees were hired at a non-English speaking restaurant and stood together talking even though others couldn’t understand them.

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