Alexander Introduces "Protecting English in the Workplace Act"

Clarifies law that companies may require English on the job

Posted on December 12, 2007

U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) today introduced legislation to “make clear that it is not against federal law for an employer to require employees to speak English on the job.” “Our greatest accomplishment as a country has been uniting our magnificent diversity, and one way we have done that is by all speaking a common language, English,” Alexander said. “A federal agency says it is illegal for an employer to require employees to speak in English, which, in plain English, means that thousands of small businesses in America would have to hire a lawyer and be prepared to make their case to a federal agency that there is some special reason to justify speaking English on the job. I believe this is a gross distortion of the Civil Rights Act and a complete misunderstanding of what it means to be an American.” The “Protecting English in the Workplace Act of 2007” would clarify that it’s not against the law to prohibit foreign languages from being spoken while engaged in work. The legislation would not apply to a worker’s lunch hour or other designated breaks. Alexander’s legislation is similar to an amendment he offered earlier this year as part of the Commerce, Justice and Science (CJS) Appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2008 to stop the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) from filing lawsuits against employers requiring employees to speak English while working. Alexander was prompted to act after a lawsuit was filed in March by the EEOC against the Salvation Army for allegedly discriminating against two of the Army's employees in a Framingham, Mass., thrift store for requiring them to speak English on the job. The Salvation Army in Massachusetts clearly posted the rule, and the employees were given a year to learn English. The EEOC is a federal agency funded by Congress with a current backlog of approximately 56,000 cases. That Alexander amendment was added to the CJS Appropriations Bill on June 28th during committee deliberations on the annual spending measure by a vote of 15 to 14. The inclusion of the Alexander language protecting English in the CJS Appropriations bill prompted the Democratic leadership to cancel the House-Senate conference that was scheduled to resolve differences between the House and Senate versions of the CJS bill. Instead, the Democratic leadership opted to write an omnibus appropriations bill that excluded the Alexander language. Citing a recent media report, Alexander said English-only complaints are on the rise. Last year, 125 charges alleging discrimination were filed with the EEOC over English-only policies. “This bill’s not about affecting people’s lunch hour or coffee break – it’s about protecting the rights of employers to ensure their employees can communicate with each other and their customers during the working hours,” Alexander concluded. “In America, requiring English in the workplace is not discrimination; it's common sense.” Alexander, a former U.S. Secretary of Education, is a longtime advocate of policies to encourage immigrant assimilation and to help prospective citizens learn English. # # #