Told To Not Speak In Native Tongue At Work

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about second language: recently our supervisor told me I could no longer use my native tongue when conversing with some of my co-workers of the same nationality out of respect to the others who don’t understand.

We are a major national business company and some of our customers sometimes talk to me in our native tongue. Some of my coworkers and I occasionally speak to one another in our native tongue also. Recently our supervisor told me I could no longer use my native tongue when conversing with some of my co-workers of the same nationality out of respect to the others who don’t understand. Do they have a legal right to implement this policy?

Signed, Feeling Shut Up

DearĀ Feeling Shut Up:

There are legal cases that pertain to this matter, but we are not a legal site and cannot provide advice about this from that perspective. Talk to an attorney who specializes in employment law. Or, contact the department of labor for your state. Also, if there are associations or groups for who work with employment issues related to your ethnicity, they might have resources.Let me mention the workplace communication aspect of this however, since that is our area of advising.

I am aware that occasionally it is helpful and comfortable to speak in one’s native language to a coworker. But, you must admit, it is not courteous to do that very often unless you immediately provide a brief explanation to those nearby who heard it. Otherwise, hearing the native language is distracting to those who don’t understand it and, according to what is happening at work, it can seem to be gossiping or mocking others. The fact that your employer talked to you about it indicates to me that someone complained. Even if you find you cannot be stopped from using your native language, that should concern you.Consider what you want to accomplish in your work. Do you want to be part of a team and be successful as well as a good person for others to be around? That involves not shutting yourself off from them unnecessarily.

You know your situation there best. If all you are doing is now and then saying a few words or having a conversation in the break room away from others, that is one thing. If coworkers are left out purposely while you and someone else converse at length in another language, that is something different–and it isn’t a courteous way to act. I do think you should get some legal advice about this matter, to ensure that there are no illegal rules established. I just want you to also keep your focus on what kind of person and coworker you want to be. That will help you in everything, not just this situation.Best wishes to you in this matter.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.