Can I Have an "English Only" Rule for My Employees?

The short answer is, "yes." The more accurate answer, however, is that it is only under very limited circumstances where there is a justifiable business and/or safety need.

It's understandable why businesses would want to require that employees speak the same language. It makes it easier for members of management to understand employees, there could be concerns regarding safety in the workplace, if customers or vendors are around you want to be responsive and not off-putting to them if they speak English, and it might make it easier to develop a monolithic company culture. They are all compelling reasons. The problem is that English-only rules demographically disfavor non-U.S. citizens, lawful residents from other countries, people from a different nation of origin, and people who are not Caucasian; favoring instead U.S. citizens and Caucasians. Thus, while the road to English-only rules might be paved with good intent, the result is that such rules will statistically impact protected classes of people to their disadvantage.

When could you consider such a policy? If there is a legitimate workplace safety concern that could only be overcome with everyone speaking a common language, such a rule might be appropriate.  If your employees need to work as a team, a common language rule might be necessary to ensure the efficiency of the project. Additionally, if the employee will be engaging with customers or vendors, mandating a language they understand can be legitimate. If you decide to have an English-only rule, create a well-written policy carving out the limited circumstances and reasons behind having the policy.


Thompson Coe’s Tips of the Week are not intended as a solicitation, do not constitute legal advice and do not establish an attorney-client relationship.