Legislation protects “English-in-the Workplace”

February 21, 2008

Legislation protects “English-in-the Workplace”

(NASHVILLE, TN) — The Senate Commerce Committee has approved legislation sponsored by Senator Jack Johnson (R-Franklin) clarifying that Tennessee employers have a right to institute an English-in-the-workplace policy.  The bill makes it clear that an English-in-the-workplace policy is not considered discrimination on the basis of national origin while the employee is engaged in work.

“This is simply a common sense bill which says that it is not discrimination under state law to require English in the workplace,” said Johnson.  “There are many occupations, whether it is an operating room or a factory, where there could be a real safety concerns if there are court rulings that other languages are the ‘civil rights’ of workers while on the job.”

Protection of employer rights in instituting English-in-the-workplace policies has increased both in the states and on the national scene since the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) began prosecuting employers who required that English be spoken while conducting business.  One notable case involved a Salvation Army thrift store in Framingham, Massachusetts where two employees refused to learn English and were subsequently fired after being given a year’s notice to learn the language.

Under the bill, SB 2849, a person would not be considered to be engaged in work during any meal period, a rest period, or any other break.  The bill only applies during the period in which the person is required to perform official duties associated with their employment.

“Employers should have the right to require that employees speak English while on the job,” Johnson added.  “I am pleased the Senate Commerce Committee has voted to protect an employers’ right to have an English-in-the-workplace policy, and I look forward to seeing the full Senate follow suit.”

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