September 8, 2020
The United States is a nation of immigrants. We began as English colonies and, through several centuries of immigration, have wound up as a multicultural tapestry of languages, skin tones, and nationalities. The United States is still a destination for many people who feel subjugated in their home nations, and many immigrants arrive with limited English-speaking skills.
Non-English speakers must still make a living, which creates a quagmire for employers. Based on federal anti-discrimination law, employers may not discriminate against employees based on nation of origin, and primary language spoken has been seen as an indication of national origin. This has led some to believe that termination from employment based on poor English skills is illegal. It is not true. If an employer makes English proficiency a job requirement, then they can legally terminate an employee if their English-language skills are not up to par. For an employer to legally require a job candidate to have proficient English skills, language skills must be necessary for either the safe and effective performance of a job or the successful operation of an employer’s business.
For example, let’s say that you are looking for a job as a receptionist in a medical office. If you misunderstand what a patient is asking for when they call in or visit, it can lead to negative health outcomes for that patient. In that case, English proficiency would be considered a requirement for the safe and effective performance of that job. Here is another example: let’s say that you are seeking a job as a customer service agent. Speaking to customers is the entirety of the employer’s business. If you do not have proficient English skills, you will not be able to successfully contribute. In contrast, if you are seeking a job as a cook in a diner, English skills may not be considered essential and, therefore, you would be able to apply for and perform that job without strong English-language skills.
This is an undeniably gray area of the law. If you suspect that you have been discriminated against, then contact Para Los Trabajadores for a consultation. We may be able to help you understand your situation better, and we will be able to represent you if illegal discrimination is taking place.