Senate Moves to Protect Employers with English-only Policies

July 6, 2007 ( - A Senate Appropriations Committee on June 28 approved an amendment to prevent the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) from suing employers that require their employees to speak English in the workplace.

SHRM reports that the amendment sponsor, Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee), argued that since the Senate has deemed English the official language of the U.S., requiring it in the workplace is not discrimination and makes common sense. The bill calls for “no appropriated funds” to be used by the EEOC for pursuing such cases.

Alexander was prompted to introduce the legislation by suit filed by the EEOC in April against The Salvation Army, according to SHRM. The suit alleges The Salvation Army discriminated against two Hispanic thrift store employees by requiring them to speak English on the job and firing them when they did not. Alexander disagrees with the charge and pointed out to the Senate that The Salvation Army in Massachusetts posted the language rule clearly and employees were given a year to learn the language.

Under EEOC guidelines, an English-only rule represents discrimination based on national origin unless the employer can provide a “legitimate business justification” for forcing employees to stop speaking their native language. An EEOC spokesman declined to comment on the amendment, saying the agency does not typically comment on legislation, SHRM said.