Instruction not to speak native language at work not race discrimination

Many businesses now have employees who do not speak English as their first language and who understandably wish to speak in their first language to other colleagues of the same nationality, or by telephone to family and friends while at work. However, this can potentially cause problems with other employees who do not speak that language who may feel excluded.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) has upheld an employment tribunal’s decision that an instruction to an employee not to speak Russian at work was not direct race discrimination or race harassment. The employer had a reasonable explanation for its actions that was unrelated to the employee’s nationality or national origins.

If an employer decides that it has good business reasons to justify a language requirement at work, it should ensure that the requirements of the policy are clear, and that it is applied in a consistent way to employees of all nationalities. If an employer considers it necessary to implement a policy regarding spoken language at work, it seems preferable for it to be a requirement to speak English (or another specified language) rather than a requirement to not speak a particular language or languages