Can I be fired for not speaking English?

On Behalf of | Dec 25, 2019 | Employment law

Making a living in Pennsylvania or elsewhere in the United States is the hope of many people who have recently immigrated to the country. Speaking English clearly can be a challenge, and some immigrants may worry that an employer could fire them for not always speaking English. Fortunately, federal law offers protections for immigrant workers who have difficulties with the English language. 

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) explains the limitations federal law places on employers. Workplace rules forbidding employees from speaking any language other than English while on the job are highly unlikely to be upheld by law. If an employer does impose English-only rules, they must be for specific business operations, when speaking English is essential to perform work. 

The EEOC defines a few functions that can require workers to speak only English. Co-workers may only understand English and need to be spoken to in English to convey job-related information. Some work situations need English communication to promote efficiency. In an emergency, a worker needs to convey information in English since it is the common language. 

Some workers struggle with speaking English because they possess a foreign accent. However, employers cannot discriminate on the basis of a foreign accent unless clearly communicating in English is a requirement to perform work. If an immigrant worker can convey information in English with no trouble, a foreign accent should not be an obstacle to employment. 

Employers also must clearly communicate their English-only rules to workers. If they do not, they cannot discipline employees who speak a different language or have a foreign accent. Workplaces are also forbidden to discriminate on the basis of national origin, country of birth, or appearance. Immigrant employees who face mistreatment based on these factors can seek recourse under federal anti-discrimination law. 

This article is written to provide information on employment law. It is not to be interpreted as legal advice.