English-Only Policy Violated NLRA

A Nevada hospital system’s policy requiring employees to speak English at all times when on duty, even when in non-patient care areas, violated the National Labor Relations Act because it could restrict employees from discussing the terms and conditions of their employment. Specifically, the health system required employees to speak only in English “when conducting business with each other,” when patients “are present or in close proximity,” and “while on duty between staff, patients, visitors [and/or] customers…unless interpretation or translation was requested or required.”

The NLRB determined that the rule was overbroad and inhibited employees, particularly non-native English speaking employees, from freely communicating about their jobs and dismissed the Employer’s argument that the English-only rule stemmed from Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidance that allowed English-only rules for “business necessity.”

The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) found that this rule did not meet the business necessity standard because it included employees’ communications among themselves and in non-patient care areas. The ALJ found that the English-only policy extended beyond the latitude typically given to companies in restricting Section 7 rights. Specifically, the ALJ stated, “I fail to see how patient care would be disrupted by Respondents restricting employees to speaking only English in non-patient care areas and even between employees, staff, visitors, and customers, particularly if a non-native English-speaking employee desires to converse with another non-native English speaking employee about their respective working conditions.”

Companies seeking to implement an English-only policy need to narrowly tailor any such policy to ensure it passes the Board’s heavy scrutiny.

Matt Austin is a lawyer based in the Columbus, Ohio office of Roetzel & Andress, LPA who limits his practice to representing employers dealing with labor, employment, and OSHA matters. You can call Matt at (614) 723-2010 or email him at maustin@ralaw.com.