Academic journal article Journal of Organizational Culture, Communications and Conflict

An Empirical Study of Students' Perspectives on English-Only Policies in U.S. Work Environments

Academic journal article Journal of Organizational Culture, Communications and Conflict

An Empirical Study of Students' Perspectives on English-Only Policies in U.S. Work Environments

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

English-only policies in U.S. companies have been questioned in recent years. Some employers feel that English-only policies increase efficiency, promote effective communication, and improve employee relations. Employees whose first language is English, however, resent being subjected to languages other than English when working in their own country.

To determine students' perspectives on and knowledge of English-only policies in U.S. companies, a survey instrument containing eight statements related to English-only policies was developed and administered to 384 students enrolled at a Mid-South university. Means and standard deviations were calculated; the guideline with the highest mean response was related to employees' belief that it is acceptable for employees to speak a language other than English during office break times. In addition, over 70 percent of students were unaware that U.S. courts have not mandated that English is the official language of the United States.

INTRODUCTION

English is the most spoken language in the world. In 2000, 322 million people were native English speakers. English is the language of international business, and most businesspersons see this trend toward a common global language as positive (Fox, 2000).

In some U.S. companies, however, mandating that English is the only language to be spoken in the workplace has been questioned especially in light of the fact that the United States has no federal policy declaring that English is the official language of the country (Stevens, 1999). Since the 1980s, many U.S. states have considered passing English-only legislation (Mora & Davila, 2002). To date, 27 states have made English their official state language (U.S. English, 2002). California's AB 800 legislation, enacted in 2001, made it unlawful to adopt a policy that prohibits or limits using a language other than English in the workplace unless employers can prove that such a policy is a business necessity and that employees are notified of the exact policy guidelines, including when the policy must be observed and the consequences for policy violation (Shaw & Miller, 2002).

CONSIDERATIONS RELATED TO IMPLEMENTING ENGLISH-ONLY POLICIES

Decisions related to implementing an English-only policy must take into consideration the legal aspects of such a decision as well as employer and employee concerns.

Legal Aspects of English-only Policies

Title VII, Section 703, of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 clearly specifies that employers cannot discriminate against a person on the basis of race, color, religion, gender, or national origin. What has not been clear in recent years is whether the Civil Rights Act is violated by states adopting English-only policies that may have a negative impact on ethnic and racial minorities (Flynn, 1995; Savage, 2001). Flynn (1995) and Walden (2002) maintain that the Civil Rights Act does not expressly include language and that no federal statute exists that prohibits companies from establishing English-only policies.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in 1980 published guidelines on English-only rules in the workplace. The first guideline applied to the requirement that employees speak no language other than English while at work. According to the EEOC, this rule is in violation of the Civil Rights Act because the result of implementing such a policy might be the creation of an atmosphere in which some employees, because of their national origin, would feel isolated, inferior, or intimidated. Thus, these employees could perceive that they are in a discriminatory work environment. The second EEOC guideline applied to the requirement that English be spoken only at specific times. According to the EEOC, this rule was also considered invalid unless a company could justify its use based on business necessity. Companies mandating that English be spoken at certain times must communicate this policy to their employees and specify consequences when employees do not comply. …

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