Language Accomodation on the Job: When is Enough, Enough?

A dozen Spanish-speaking custodial workersat the Auraria Higher Education Center in Denver have filed formal grievances with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission(EEOC) against their employer claiming that the school is practicing national origin discrimination because their employer has failed to communicate with them in their native language resulting in unfair working conditions.

Workers who first language is not English often have problems on the job communicating with their supervisors. Over the past few decades, state and federal regulations and laws have been created to deal with these issues. The standard which has developed in EEOC cases is that communications dealing directly with work assignments, safety issues and operational procedures must be done in the worker’s primary language.

The issue at Auraria Higher Education Center resulted from what the employees feel is the lack of primary language communication from their employer on issues involving layoffs, transfers and resulting pay losses. The group of custodial workers felt that the Center should provide details of these layoffs in written form in Spanish like other similar institutions in Colorado and not merely rely on translators from the Human Resources Department at the institution.

The group of workers prior to filing their federal action did take the Center to arbitration at the state level. The decision there was that the Center had fulfilled its obligations in the particular circumstance. The group disagreed with this decision and retained counsel to file the federal case.

While it would certainly be respectful of these employees for the Center to be more willing to provide information in all circumstances to them in the primary language, it is not their legal obligation to do so. The standard is ‘reasonable accommodation’ not ‘if this were a perfect world’. Employers must as matter of respect and good conscience and moral responsibility provide employees whose primary language is not English with information that directly affects the health and safety of those employees in their primary language. Common sense dictates this. In other circumstances, the availability of translators should suffice. This standard is the same one used by law in school districts across the country in communications between districts and the parents of their students whose first language is not English.

The situation at Auraria Higher Education Center seems to me to be more of an attorney attempting to use the dozen custodial employees to line his own pocket than in representing his clients’ interests.

By Being Latino Contributor, Jeffery Cassity Jeffery Cassity is a mostly socially-liberal, fiscally-conservative Anglo male who is involved in his local Hispanic community as the widower of a 1st generation Mexican-American woman and his active, some would say hyperactive, membership in the local Council of the League of Latin American Citizens(LULAC)

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