Speaking Spanish in public these days can expose you to some of the nastier elements of racism. Viral videos of Latinos being insulted, harassed and threatened because they were speaking in Spanish have been flooding the internet for awhile now. It probably surprises no one that up to 40% of Latinos have dealt with aggressive verbal attacks over their use of language.
So, what are your rights?
The right to use your own language at work is guaranteed through the California Fair Employment and Housing Act. Essentially, unless it’s a matter of “business necessity,” you’re entitled to speak in any language you want. Your employer cannot wholesale prohibit you, for example, from speaking Spanish to your co-workers while inside the work building without a valid reason.
For example, forbidding you to speak Spanish to your co-workers because “the customers wouldn’t like it,” probably couldn’t be considered a necessity. Prohibiting you from speaking Spanish because your employer “doesn’t know what you’re saying,” would also hardly be a necessity of business. On the other hand, in a factory setting where only some of your co-workers speak Spanish, requiring you to speak English while on the line could be an actual safety issue designed to reduce communication errors that lead to accidents.
What happens if your rights are being trampled?
Make no mistake about it, statements like “We’re in America, speak English!” and comments about how you should return to your “own country” whenever you speak in Spanish on the job are harassing and discriminating. The smart thing to do is to document each incident and what steps you’ve taken to resolve the issue. If you’re uncertain how to proceed, consider finding out more about all your legal options.