Civil Rights Commission Recommends EEOC Withdraw Position on English-Only Policies

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (the “Civil Rights Commission”) has recently released a briefing report on workplace policies that require employees to speak English exclusively in the workplace (the “Report”).  In the Report, the Civil Rights Commission recommends that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) withdraw its position on these English-only policies.

Under current EEOC Guidelines, English-only policies are presumed to be violations of Title VII. The basis for this guidance is the EEOC’s view that English-only policies “may…create an atmosphere of inferiority, isolation, and intimidation based on national origin which could result in a discriminatory working environment.”  While the Guidelines take the position that English-only policies violate Title VII, the EEOC did carve out an exception for those policies that are justified by business necessity.

In its Report, the Civil Rights Commission disagrees with the EEOC’s view on this issue and makes several findings, including the following:

–        In passing Title VII, Congress did not intend to disturb employer’s right to control workplace practices.

–        Several courts have explicitly rejected the EEOC Guidelines on “Speak English Only Rules.”

–        Several nondiscriminatory reasons exist for the implementation of an English-only policy:

  • Safety
  • Effective supervision and management
  • The provision of a friendly and courteous atmosphere without the possibility that customers and employees are being spoken of in a discourteous manner.

–        The EEOC Guidelines chill employers’ use of English-only policies where nondiscriminatory reasons exists.

In addition to these findings, the Civil Rights Commission also recommends that the EEOC withdraw its Guidelines.  The Civil Rights Commission further advocates that the EEOC inform employers that English-only policies are prohibited where the policies are shown to be harassing, embarrassing, or exclusive by a preponderance of the evidence.  Finally, the Civil Rights Commission urges Congress to “amend Title VII to clarify the meaning of discrimination on the basis of national origin.”

In response to the Report, the EEOC has only stated that they have received the report and will “give it careful consideration.”  As the EEOC has giving no indication as to whether the recommendations will be adopted, employers should continue to follow the EEOC Guidelines as they currently exists.  Employers concerned about whether their policies comply with Title VII should seek legal advice.

For more information, please contact LaVonne Pulliam at lpulliam@beneschlaw.com or (216) 363-4507.

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