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The requirement to speak English at work and dress codes at work are policy areas where employers should tread carefully to avoid discrimination. Deborah Bulman, a senior associate from Burges Salmon LLP, considers recent legal controversies and gives tips on drafting employment policies.
While many workplace policies come as standard, many businesses will have particular requirements they want to encompass which may stray beyond the usual. When doing so, employers need to be careful as policies that apply equally to all employees may disadvantage certain nationalities and religions.
Requirement to speak English at work
A common question employers ask is whether they can require their employees to speak only English while at work.
More on dress codes and race and religious discrimination
Many organisations employ staff for whom English is not their first language and when employees share a common language which is not English and wish to speak to their colleagues in their native language, this can cause problems.
As language is an intrinsic part of a person’s nationality, a requirement that workers do not speak in their native language while at work could amount to direct race discrimination.
The Acas guide Race discrimination: key points for the workplace warns employers to be wary of prohibiting or limiting the use of other languages in the workplace as it could potentially be discriminatory.
A race discrimination claim succeeded in the case of Jurga v Lavendale Montessori Ltd, in part, because Polish-speaking employees were reprimanded for speaking Polish to each other in their