Title VII, and comparable state laws, like the Florida Civil Rights Act, prohibit employer actions that have the purpose or effect of discriminating against persons because of their national origin. It is no secret that U.S. work forces are becoming increasingly more diverse. In response to the increased linguistic diversity of the workforce, many employers have implemented policies that limit or completely prohibit their employees from speaking languages other than English while at work, or take action against employees because of their foreign accent. Employers must do so with great caution and deliberation – such practices may violate the national origin protections of Title VII.
Is an English-Only Policy a Business Necessity?
The EEOC and the courts will likely look at English-only policies with skepticism, and will require the employer to justify the policy by showing that it was a "business necessity." Generally speaking, the policy should be narrowly-tailored to address specific concerns. For instance, requiring hospital healthcare workers to speak English around patients due to safety concerns is likely reasonable, but requiring that they speak English at all times, including at lunch and/or in break-room conversations, is typically unlawful.
What about accent discrimination?