Many employers have a diverse and multicultural workforce, employing staff from a number of different countries. For this reason, it is becoming common practice for employers in Ireland to introduce a policy that English is the business language of the employer and that staff are required to communicate in English when performing their work related duties.
It is important to note that the introduction of such a policy may be considered discriminatory on the grounds of race and nationality unless it is objectively justified. Employers must show that the policy has a legitimate objective and the introduction of the policy should be appropriate and necessary to that objective. The typical reasons behind the introduction of such a policy are business efficiency, health and safety in the workplace and to ensure integration amongst staff from different backgrounds. The requirement that staff speak a common language while performing their work related duties is a reasonable requirement when there are a large number of nationalities employed in a common area of work. Employers must be in a position to show that the motivation behind the introduction of such a policy is staff inclusion and not exclusion.
In the workplace, staff are assigned duties and are assigned to the people with whom they work, but staff choose with whom they take their work breaks. For this reason, the policy should not require staff to converse in English when on official breaks in work. Employers should take an educational approach to the implementation of the policy and hold diversity workshops where guidelines on inclusion and the policy itself are communicated to all staff. The policy should be in writing and clearly displayed on staff noticeboards.
Introduction and enforcement
In general, staff in Ireland are recruited through the English language and have competency in the language. The introduction of a policy requiring staff to communicate in English when performing their work related duties should not put any member of staff at a particular disadvantage. All staff should be sufficiently competent in English if the policy is to be enforced consistently. Staff should not be disciplined for speaking their native language but instead notified of the policy requirements and provided with training on the policy. Employers should consider providing staff with access to English language classes where a member of staff is not able to speak English well enough to fulfil the request to speak only English when performing their work related duties.