Medical device company stands firm behind English as lingua franca in the workplace

August 12, 2017

habla ingles?Diversity in the workplace erupted into a cause célèbre this month when a memo penned by Google engineer James Damore went viral, and then some. “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber” argues that Google’s diversity initiatives discriminate against those who aren’t women or people of color. He also suggests that biological differences, in part, account for “why we don’t see equal representation of women in tech and leadership.” Damore ultimately was fired for “perpetuating gender stereotypes.” Now, a medical device company near Santa Barbara, CA, is getting some unwanted attention over linguistic diversity in its workplace.

Advanced Vision Science Inc. (Goleta, CA), a subsidiary of Japan-based Santen Pharmaceutical Co. that produces and markets vision-correcting lenses and lens materials, employs many Latinos, as well as some workers who speak Vietnamese and Laotian. In 2013, it adopted a policy requiring employees to speak English in the workplace with some exceptions. An English-speaking employee recently lodged a complaint that the rule was not being enforced, reports the Santa Barbara Independent. “The worker said he felt ‘alienated’ and ‘uncomfortable’ because he thought his coworkers were talking about him,” Human Resources Manager Gail Lorencz told the news outlet. As a result, the company has announced that it would strictly enforce the rule.

Contesting that it constitutes an English-only policy and is, in fact, an attempt to prevent miscommunication and ensure worker safety, Lorencz provided the Independent with a copy of company policy. Employees are permitted to ask their supervisor questions in their primary languages if they are confused about their job duties, it states. In addition, workers are able to speak their primary languages in the break areas, parking lot, or where they are “otherwise not involved in the production process.”

Reporter Kelsey Brugger writes in the article that the rule could be in violation of California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act. Quoting labor attorney Bruce Anticouni, Brugger notes that employers could enforce language restrictions in rare instances where workers’ safety may be at risk. “This is a manufacturing facility,” said Anticouni. “There is no reason why people couldn’t speak Spanish.”

Do you agree that employers should not be able to enforce English-only rules in the workplace? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment here, and participate in the online poll in the right-hand column of the homepage.

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