Three employees of a Verizon dispatch center in Tampa, Fla. recently were overheard speaking Spanish—not to customers, but to each other.
For a fellow dispatch employee nearby, that warranted a complaint.
That employee didn’t speak Spanish…and felt excluded.
And so Margaret Hess, a Verizon employee of 33 years who was among the Spanish-speaking employees, got the word: English only.
A local supervisor told Hess they could no longer speak Spanish on the dispatch floor unless it was to customers or for other work-related matters, according to Biz Journals. Spanish conversation was allowed for lunch breaks or other areas off the dispatch floor, she told La Gaceta.
Verizon spokesman Bob Elek confirmed the incident, and described the company language policy this way, according to the Tampa Tribune:
“Generally, we tell employees they can speak Spanish (or any other language) on break, lunch or any time away from the work area,” he wrote in an official statement. However, when employees are on the dispatch center floor or other work setting, they should speak English, he said. This promotes “positive employee relations” because it’s courteous to co-workers, and employees should be “mindful” of making others feel uncomfortable, Elek said, “not because they’re speaking Spanish’, but because for some it can create a feeling of separation versus inclusion.”
Elek told the Tribune that Verizon encourages employees to speak Spanish as part of their jobs–when it’s necessary to communicate with Spanish-speaking customers or for other business reasons.
More from Biz Journals:
Enforcing such a rule is risky for any company, according to Phillip Russell, shareholder at labor and employment firm Ogletree Deakins in Tampa. He spoke in general about the law itself and is not involved with this incident.
“The only time you can really find [the English-only rule] enforceable is for the employer to operate safely and efficiently,” Russell said. “If the conversations are personal about where you want to go for lunch, etc., it’s going to be difficult for the employer for that to be enforceable.”
This issue “pops up all the time because there’s friction between cultures,” Tony Morejon, a cultural affairs liaison, told the Tribune. “I encourage people to learn English … but some employees are going to resent this kind of rule. Some will say they won’t speak Spanish for business purposes unless they’re required to, because they feel used. Like ‘Oh when you want me to speak Spanish you say do that, but not other times.’”
(H/T: Tampa Tribune)