By BLR Founder and CEO Bob Brady
Two Fridays ago, I devoted this column to charges of discrimination brought by the EEOC against, of all people, the Salvation Army. The cause was the Army’s Framingham, Massachusetts, branch’s firing of two Hispanic workers for speaking their native language in the workplace. The Army has a policy of using English-only at work, which they say maintains workplace discipline and promotes productivity.
Needless to say (and I knew it was coming, based on your response to similarly controversial columns), my e-mail box was made rich with replies within 48 hours. You also set a new record for Daily Advisor for “Share Your Thoughts” postings on the website.
Today, I’d like to summarize that response. The top line, or bottom line, if you will, was that readers overwhelmingly supported our position that the Army was right to terminate these workers, by a margin of 8 to 1. However, the reasons you felt it was right were downright surprising.
I wrote the column on the theme of discrimination. The EEOC, you see, has a longstanding bias against English-only rules unless there is a specific business reason that they’re needed. But you saw it more as a matter of bad manners, practicality, and even overreaching by the bureaucracy!
(In publishing your emailed comments, we’ll follow our usual practice of calling you Reader A, B, C, and so on to protect our emailers’ privacy.)
Reader A put the manners issue succinctly. “We seem so absorbed in trying to please all ethnic groups,” she writes, “that we forget our own fundamental basic moral standards, one of which is manners …. You should speak the language of the majority of the people of the workplace, particularly in an open forum or meeting, not for discrimination or policy purposes, but because [not doing so] makes people uncomfortable.”
Reader B amplified this comment. “I think it’s simply rude and shows a lack of respect. If we went to France, wouldn’t we have to learn French? The same rule should apply in the United States.”
Reader C does refer to a French-speaking market, Montreal, and notes that it’s not considered discrimination there if employers insist that you speak French. “We go overboard in trying to defend some of our freedoms,” he writes. “English is the language of the job market. If one wants to speak another language, they can do so when not at work.”
Reader D grew up in a Salvation Army church family, and says he still has his grandmother’s bonnet and tambourine. He defends the Army’s policy because it creates teamwork. “I totally agree in the universal language of English … in [creating] a unity and pulling everyone together,” he writes.
Reader E finds fault with the EEOC in bringing charges over an English-only matter. “I think EEOC is trying to justify its existence because it’s done a good job educating the public and …American businesses now work to be inclusive. Attacking English-only policies is something [for EEOC] to do.”
Reader F represents the smaller, but similarly passionate opposition to my view. He thinks that the Army’s arguments for the policy are baseless and, in fact, undercut the organization’s noble mission and image. “I believe [the Army] would be hard pressed to demonstrate that this policy actually maintained or enhanced either discipline or productivity,” he writes. And “[speaking English-only] is not a condition of employment.”
“First amendment rights,” he concludes, “are not left at the employer’s door.”
If you’d like to read these comments in their entirety, we’ve posted them (with identifying data removed) on our website, along with the original article. You can also read the bylined Web comments made the day the article appeared.
Thanks to all who contributed to this lively and provocative conversation. I promise to do my best to keep igniting such discussions if you promise to keep adding fuel to my fires!