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Your questions answered: Can we require employees to only speak English?

By Portner Press on April 8th, 2019
  1. Bullying, Harassment & Discrimination
  2. Discrimination in the workplace

Q
We have a number of employees who do not speak English as a first language. The other employees, who do speak English as a first language, get disgruntled when languages other than English are spoken in the lunchroom, and are asking that management step in and make English the only language to be spoken in the workplace.

Where do we stand? Can we legally do this? If so, do you have any suggestions on how to go about this without a trip to the Fair Work Commission for discriminatory behaviour?

A
Requiring your employees to only speak English in the workplace would likely contravene federal and state anti-discrimination and equal opportunity legislation.

To defend any potential claim made against you, you would need to be able to point to clear evidence that it is a reasonable requirement to only speak English in the workplace, having regard to the needs of your business. The bar is set extremely high in these situations.

We consider having the requirement because you do not want to cause a communications barrier or breakdown within the workplace would not be enough of a reason.

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