English Language Policies In The Workplace

A recent case where two Polish nationals claimed they had been discriminated against by their employer McDonalds because they were required to use English at all times at work provides some helpful guidance on how employers can legitimately implement a common language policy in their workplaces. (Ref Dec-E2015-072)

The claimants contended they had been discriminated against on grounds of race under the Employment Equality Acts as they were required to use English at all times at work and denied the opportunity to converse in any other language. The claimants objected to this policy being applied to the kitchen floor area and meetings in the office area in addition to the restaurant area.

The employer stated they used English as their business language in order to interface with customers as well as the need to communicate all health and safety requirements to staff in a clear and consistent manner. The employer cited the third reason for the use of English was that staff could communicate with and understand each other and not be excluded as they had a very diverse workforce with 188 employees from 15 different countries employed in their four restaurants in Limerick. They said they did not have a blanket ban on employees speaking in different languages and they recognised that at times employees may need to converse with a customer in a language that was not English. They also said employees were permitted to use other languages whilst on breaks provided that no other person was excluded but that ultimately effective communication within the team through a common language was essential to ensure that everyone was involved in providing the best possible customer service, food quality and safety.

The Equality Officer determined that the employer had objectively justified it’s English language policy on the business reasons outlined above and that the complainants had not established a prima facie case of discriminatory treatment in relation to their conditions of employment.