Legal language translation services play an important role in employment discrimination cases. A number of key federal, state and local laws deal with the issue of whether the failure to provide employees with translated documents constitutes employment discrimination. Even when the employer can technically avoid liability and is not required to provide translated documents to its non-English-speaking employees, it is typically in his or her own best interest to provide such materials in languages other than English. Taking this step helps ensure that employees have actual knowledge of important employment policies so that their behavior at work will meet the expectations outlined in these written documents.
In the case of EEOC v. The Spud Seller, Inc., the court held that an employee’s sexual harassment lawsuit could proceed even though the employer took measures to prevent sexual harassment which included establishing a clear policy against sexual harassment, showing an instructional video to employees and periodic training sessions with employees. Their employee handbook also contained information about this policy. However, all of this information was delivered only in English. The court was concerned that the employees who did not speak or read English were not informed of this policy in a meaningful manner. The employer did not use a professional foreign translation service, instead requiring Spanish-speaking employees to bring their own interpreters or to rely on another employee to communicate any complaints under this policy. Furthermore, the bilingual person who received such complaints was the very supervisor who was being complained about.
Even when the law does not expressly require an employer to provide legal language translations of anti-discrimination or other types of policies, it is typically in the employer’s best interest to ensure that professional document translation service is utilized. This combats any potential argument that the employee was not aware of the policy or did not understand the policy. Additionally, taking the extra step to ensure that all individuals in the workforce have meaningful access to these policies by using a professional document translation service may be enough to sway jurors’ opinions about the efforts of employers in a discrimination case.
Employment discrimination on the basis of national origin is prohibited by federal law and many state laws. Language discrimination can be a form of this employment discrimination, which is defined as the unfair treatment of someone because of the native language that he or she uses. It may be based on a person’s accent, vocabulary, syntax or verbal expressions. For example, if an employer requires that all employees talk during their break time in English, this can be considered language discrimination. Hiring someone over another person who speaks with an accent can also be considered discrimination.
While a country may have a dominant language, if an employer refuses to hire someone because of a lack of proficiency in that language, it must show that there is a legitimate, nondiscriminatory purpose for this decision. This means that there must be some connection between the language and the requirements of the job.
In the case of Estenos v. PAHO/WHO-FCU, 952 A.2d 878, 2008 D.C. App., the court held that an employee had asserted a prima facie case of workplace discrimination when he alleged that he had been terminated due to his lack of fluency in English while a coworker who had difficulty communicating with the employer’s customers in Spanish was not fired.
Employees who file a workplace discrimination lawsuit may be entitled to significant damages, including back pay, reinstatement, attorneys’ fees and court costs. It is often very time-consuming and expensive for employers to defend against such lawsuits.
Furthermore, the Limited English Proficiency Executive Order requires federal agencies to identify services needed for the individuals who have limited English proficiency. Recipients of federal funds are also required to provide meaningful access to the programs for limited English proficiency applicants and customers. This means that recipients of federal funds must ensure that employees who speak a foreign language can access the program and its benefits. For example, the court in Sandoval v. Hagan, 7 F. Supp. 2d 1234 held that it was illegal for the state to only give driver’s license tests in English.
Based on the above, it is more important for the employers to be able to effectively communicate with their Limited English Proficiency employees.
The use of a trusted translation services company to translate employee handbooks, workplace policies and other important documents into foreign languages will benefit every employer interested in improving relationship with the workers who speak languages other than English.