My Business Law students are often surprised to learn that the State of Florida, unlike the United States of America, has an official language: English. See Article II, Section 9 of the Florida Constitution. So, does that mean employers can require employees to only speak English at work? Generally speaking, the answer is “no”.
Florida employers who attempt to unreasonably require an English language-only workplace may experience a similar fate to the Texas resort, which recently paid more than $2.6 Million in damages for requiring 25 Hispanic employees to speak English only.
Students often ask: If English is the official language in Florida, why is requiring an English speaking workplace illegal? The reason: Such a policy violates the Federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 (and the Florida Civil Rights Act of 1992). Preventing employees from speaking their primary language is considered National Origin discrimination because language is a manifestation of one’s birthplace.
Stated differently, racist managers might try to circumvent laws against racial discrimination by prohibiting employment based on language instead. However, government agencies and plaintiff lawyers are wise to this trick. Prohibiting certain languages in the workplace is tantamount to prohibiting certain types of people, and smart people know it.
Employees should know, however, that Federal and Florida anti-discrimination laws generally apply to workplaces with 15 or more employees. Some county ordinances (e.g. Osceola and Orange) reduce the threshold number of employees to as little as 5 or 6. However, it’s still technically legal for very small businesses to require an English speaking workplace. Immoral, perhaps…but not illegal.
This is another reason why employees should consider the size of an employer (based on the number of employees) before seeking employment. Some laws apply to employers of all sizes, while other laws apply only to some employers. Likewise, employers should know what laws will apply as their businesses grow. Again, employment law is often dependent on the size of a company based on the number of workers employed, not the amount of revenue generated.
(c) Copyright 2019. All Rights Reserved.