Can your employer require English in the workplace?

If English is your second language, it may be difficult to complete your workday with only English terminology and speech. People who speak two languages don’t always have a full vocabulary in both, and that’s okay.

In most workplaces, it is reasonable to speak both in your native language and in English. If your employer says that you cannot, then they could be in violation of the law. According to the Department of Labor, any rule that requires English to be spoken at all times is considered “burdensome.” This rule is assumed to be a violation of Title VII and could be racial or national origin discrimination.

Can you speak Spanish or another language with customers?

Your employer is allowed to ask that you speak English while you complete your job duties, but there are times when it may make sense to speak another language. For example, if you speak Korean, Spanish, Chinese, German or another language and have a customer who speaks that language as well, it may be easier for them to communicate with you in their native language, too.

If this is an issue that comes up often, remember to talk to your employer about it. In most cases, your employer won’t be able to ask you to speak only in English, because there are contributions that you can make in your own native language.

Is it unreasonable to speak with coworkers in another language?

No, it’s not unreasonable. If English isn’t your native language, then it’s reasonable to want to speak in what is. If someone else is uncomfortable with it because they can’t understand what is being said, that’s something you can discuss with them directly. However, your employer should not ban you from speaking your primary language in the workplace.

Your employer may ask that you speak with others in the office in English if they all speak English, but if someone else speaks the same native language as you, then you both should be able to communicate in it. Your employer can, however, ask that you speak Spanish in specific areas of the workplace where English communication promotes safety. If you aren’t sure if you have had your rights violated in the workplace by being asked to speak English, it’s worth reviewing the laws and discussing your legal options.