COMMENTARY | The United States has no official state language, and neither does the state of New Mexico. Whole Foods Market however, wants its English-speaking employees to only speak English to each other while on the clock. The company suspended two employees for a day at an Albuquerque, New Mexico store after they complained about the policy, reports NBC. The employees claimed to only speak Spanish to each other about “personal stuff, not work.” Now the New Mexico League of Latin American Citizens is considering a boycott of businesses with English-only-while-on-the-clock policies. In this controversial debate I must side with Whole Foods Market and agree they are justified in insisting that English-speaking employees stick to English while on the clock.
Discrimination can take many forms, including social. Traditional white male venues, such as exclusive clubs, were forcibly opened to women and minorities by courts under the premise that such clubs, despite being privately-owned, caused rampant discrimination in business (and thus harming interstate commerce) because many business deals were actually made in the clubhouse and on the golf course, not necessarily in the integrated boardroom. With true power exercised socially and far from the office, discrimination could still exist even if the workplace was theoretically race- and gender-neutral. The same situation applies here: English-speaking employees should be obligated to not form discriminatory cliques based on knowledge of a second language.
The Whole Foods Market policy allows non-English-speaking workers to speak their native language and also allows employees to speak languages other than English to assist customers. If all employees present wish to speak another language, they all may. Other languages may be spoken during breaks, over lunch, and whenever employees are not on the clock. Thus, Whole Foods Market is not trying to hinder anyone’s freedom of expression. It is trying to prevent divisive cliques from forming and making some employees feel discriminated against.
To prevent the issue becoming race-based or linked to the complex topic of immigration, imagine a group of white workers deciding to converse with each other in Russian while on the clock. Other workers would justifiably become nervous or incensed, wondering if the Russian-speakers were badmouthing them or were discussing business and intending to exclude them. Over time, tensions would develop. The Russian-speaking workers could be viewed with suspicion by those who did not speak Russian. Such tension and divisiveness could hinder productivity, harming the company financially.