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Ben Jones
Ben Jones, UK Lawyer
Category: Employment Law
Satisfied Customers: 50204
Experience:  Qualified Employment Solicitor
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There, I am an European national working in the UK. I work

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Hi there, I am an European national working in the UK. I work in office environment with another person of my nationality in the same team; we work closely together, our desks are next to each other and we have to be in constant communication to do our jobs. We speak our native language when the conversation only involves the two of us. It was all ok for over a year, but recently our bosses instructed us to only speak English at work. were do I stand in regards ***** ***** laws?
Many thanks for your help.
Hello, my name is***** am a qualified solicitor and it is my pleasure to assist you with your question today. How long have you worked there?
Customer: replied 2 years ago.
I've worked for the company for just over a year now.
Apologies for not getting back to you sooner, I experienced some temporary connection issues and could not get back on the site until now. All appears to be resolved now so I can continue dealing with your query. When you speak in a foreign language are your conversations overheard by others? Are you in a customer facing role? Does the fact you speak in that language affect your quality of work?
Customer: replied 2 years ago.
Yes, although we do try to keep our voices low, the conversations can be overheard by the other team members. Not a customer facing role. Due to the fact that the language is a mother tongue for both of us, I would say it positively affects the quality of our work as we can express our thoughts faster and clearer, more precise; although we both are fluent in English, my friend slightly less than I am, it is still a foreign language and it's just weird to speak English to each other.
A requirement by the employer for workers to only speak English in the workplace could amount to race discrimination because it is treating persons of a particular nationality or ethnic group detrimentally. An employer could defend potential race discrimination by showing that there is what is known as ‘objective justification’. This means that they must show some factors which objectively justify the requirements they have in place, such as the requirement for workers to speak English at work. Obviously it will depend on the specific circumstances and why the employer may require this in the first place. So in the case of English being spoken at work, they could objectively justify it by arguing that this is required for a health and safety reason or for the productivity in the role. Another one is if this was a customer facing role and it may make the business look bad and display a level of rudeness if staff were speaking in a foreign language in front of customers. However, if none of these apply and there are no other reasons the employer could use as objective justification their request could be discriminatory in nature and therefore unlawful. This is your basic legal position. I have more detailed guidance for you contained in a couple of articles on the subject which contain more details and case law to support your position, which I wish to provide you with so please take a second to leave a positive rating for the service so far (by selecting 3, 4 or 5 stars) and I can continue with that and answer any further questions you may have. Don’t worry, leaving a rating will not close the question and we can continue this discussion. Thank you
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Customer: replied 2 years ago.
Thanks, ***** ***** confirms what I was thinking myself. Their reasoning is that speaking a foreign language is rude, the rest of the people feel excluded and that we might be talking about them; I disagree with this because I don't feel that anyone needs to be part to every conversation in the office and I do not even try to listen in; people often have private conversations in very low voices so no one could hear what they are talking about - should I insist that they broadcast the conversation for everyone to hear so we don't feel excluded? What does it matter if they speak English if they make sure that no one hears them?
Could they separate us, like moving one of us to another floor, away from the team, in that preventing us from talking?
I would be thankful if you could share those articles and for any other advise that you may have for me, how to handle this without making the situation worse? Should I respond to the bosses in writing, politely refusing the request to speak English only - that would create a record of me handling the issue, and by doing so I could control what is said exactly; that would also prevent me from misspeaking - English is still a foreign language to me...?
Customer: replied 2 years ago.
I just wanted to point out, I do not think that two of us speaking a foreign language is an issue for most of the people; we both are generally well liked, communicate with everyone in the office and we are very careful to observe certain rules of politeness and when someone else is present in the conversation, we always speak English and do not switch to another language.
Well, obviously, some one does have a problem with it...
Thank you. the relevant information I mentioned can be found here: As mentioned you can raise the defence that this is potential discrimination and ask the employer to show what objective justifications they are relying on to show that it is a requirement for you to speak English
Customer: replied 2 years ago.
Also, I am somewhat aware that by refusing to comply, I could end up getting a sack, the bosses seemed very sure of their right to force this English only rule onto us (although I doubt it, as they're not stupid, but who knows...)
It's a quite difficult situation, I like working in the company, they value me, I am in 'good books'.
This situation somehow turned work into somewhat hostile environment and of course I feel discriminated against. I have been discriminated in my home country because of sexual orientation came to the UK so I am not. And now I feel it's happening again, although for a different reason.
Any advice here?
There is nothing stopping hem from dismissing you but that would not make it fair or lawful. If the reasons they dismiss you are linked to a discriminatory reason such as this one, the dismissal could be automatically unfair and could be challenged in the employment tribunal. They can still dismiss you but you will have protection and can challenge their decision
Customer: replied 2 years ago.
Many thanks Ben for your advice and for the links, hopefully it all will resolve in a peaceful and reasonable manner.Before I let you go, could you answer the last question: if they move one of us to a different floor to stop us communicating, would that be fair and what would be your advice in this scenario?
Moving you could amount to detrimental treatment because of your nationality so again it could amount to discrimination and can only be justified on the grounds discussed earlier. Hope this clarifies
Customer: replied 2 years ago.
Thank you very much.
You are welcome, all the best