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Topic: Policies

English only policy
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English only policy

English only policy

It’s acceptable to have an English only policy which says that only English must be spoken in the workplace but it shouldn’t extend to breaks, non-work duties and casual conversations. Our policy strikes a balance to enable you to meet your reasonable business and safety needs whilst still allowing staff to chat in their native tongue at certain times.

Indirect discrimination

With UK workforces becoming increasingly diverse, it’s inevitable that you’ll employ workers of different nationalities. So you might need to deal with what language is used in the workplace, particularly if many of your employees don’t have English as their first language. The key legislation here is the Equality Act 2010 - this says it can be indirectly discriminatory to introduce a provision, criterion or practice which applies to all but which puts employees in a certain racial group at a particular disadvantage. Race includes nationality and ethnic and national origins. So if you required all communication in the workplace to be in English, you would need to be able to objectively justify it, so that it’s not indirectly discriminatory. It’s highly unlikely that a simple blanket ban on staff speaking other languages would be justified. What you need to do is limit it to the circumstances in which English is actually needed for you to operate your business safely and efficiently, i.e. you need to be reasonable and proportionate in your requirements.

Business needs

Our English Only Policy sets out various circumstances in which English only must be spoken, such as when giving and receiving health and safety, legal, financial or management instructions, when dealing with emergencies or other safety-critical situations, when communicating with colleagues who only speak English, when in the presence of English-only speaking clients, customers or suppliers and when working with other employees on co-operative or joint work assignments. Essentially, it covers the carrying out of most interactive work-related activities. We’ve also added that employees must never use a non-English language to make derogatory statements about other staff or in order to exclude other staff from relevant work-related conversations. To balance this, we’ve then provided that employees are not required to speak English only outside of their work duties or working hours, for example, during their designated breaks or in casual conversations. Remember that some of your staff may only have a limited knowledge of English so it’s important they don’t feel excluded in the workplace.

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