Whole Foods Says No Espanol En El Trabajo

Last month, a Whole Foods in Albuquerque, New Mexico suspended two of their employees after they complained about being told they couldn’t speak Spanish to each other while on the job.  In an interview with the Associated Press, Bryan Baldizan said he and a woman employee decided to write a letter to their manager who told them according to company policy, they were not allowed to speak Spanish during working hours.  Unfortunately, they received a one day suspension, instead of having their issue addressed.

“I couldn’t believe it,” said Baldizan, who works in the store’s food preparation department. “All we did was say we didn’t believe the policy was fair. We only talk Spanish to each other about personal stuff, not work.”

When contacted about their policy, the higher ups at Whole Foods didn’t seem to be on the same page.

Libba Letton, a spokesperson for Whole Foods, said after an investigation it was determined that it was a misunderstanding and they were not told they couldn’t speak Spanish.  But the employees were suspended with pay for their rude and disrespectful behavior at work.  

But on the other hand, Ben Friedland, Whole Foods Market Rocky Mountain Region Executive Marketing Coordinator, said having a one-language work environment ensures safety, “Therefore, our policy states that all English speaking Team Members must speak English to customers and other Team Members while on the clock. Team Members are free to speak any language they would like during their breaks, meal periods and before and after work.” He also went on to say that the policy doesn’t forbid  employees from speaking to customers who don’t speak English, “parties present agree that a different language is their preferred form of communication.”

In a previous life, I worked as an Human Resources Manager for one of the largest flooring manufacturers in the U.S. On several occasions I had to travel to the corporate office located in Georgia for various training sessions and team building activities. One time in particular, I was assigned to conduct diversity training for the manufacturing division and warehouse employees because there were issues between the Spanish speaking employees and the non-Spanish speaking employees.  This company in particular did not have a language policy that said “English Only”, but plenty of the non-Spanish speaking employees felt there needed to be one. Their biggest complaint was that they thought it was rude, and by rude, a lot of them assumed the Spanish speaking employees were talking behind their backs. In the end, a policy was never written enforcing an English only working environment, but there were strides made by implementing ESL classes, as well as Spanish lessons for those who wanted to learn the language.

With the Whole Foods issue, and the complaint coming out of  Albuquerque, New Mexico, which has the largest Spanish speaking population in the U.S, Whole Foods may want to re-evaluate their policy.  This policy just doesn’t affect people who speak Spanish in their New Mexico store, but other employees who are multilingual elsewhere.  Whole Foods needs to realize in today’s society, English is a second language for many people and having employees that are multilingual could benefit their bottom line.

What do you think about Whole Food’s language policy?

  • talaktochoba

    massive unrelated tangent, you say?

    i suppose that depends upon what side of the A-bomb you are on when it falls;

    and although Whole Foods is a business, the customers are there for one thing–to buy products, not legislate what employees speak to each other;

    were it German, Dutch, French or any other white Latin language the employees were speaking, we wouldn’t be having this discussion because Whole Foods wouldn’t have a problem with that;

    i don’t have a problem around Germans speaking German, Italians speaking Italian, Belgians, Swiss, Dutch or anybody else, because in place of not understanding their tongue i make it a point to communicate to them i give less than a tinker’s d**n if they’re feeling smugly superior everyone here has sensed foreigners do and talking about me;

    you seem to miss the subtle implication of racism inherent in your remark “customers have a right to feel comfortable” around employees, implying their native tongue is not good enough or acceptable in the customer’s presence;

    that harkens back to other comments recent here, concerning You’re having to wear two masks and growing tired of having to disarm whites’ latent fear of black men wherever he goes;

    employees don’t have to check their native tongue at the door just to appease a narrow-minded company policy or the latent racist fear of a few ignorant customers;

  • talaktochoba

    i had a supervisor like that, too–so bad, in fact, i spent a good deal of my time, unbeknownst to him, talking other incensed employees, male and female, out of doing him grievous bodily harm;

    believe me when i say this, you insult asses of every stripe…

  • JS

    I didn’t miss anything I said it doesn’t always have to do with racism and discrimination. It’s natural for people to be uncomfortable with what they are unfamiliar with. Could be because of racism, or could be because they feel awkward interrupting a conversation, etc.

    Bottom line whatever the reason, it hurts Whole Foods’ profit a customer wanted to know where the kale chips were but didn’t ask and didn’t get it because of their discomfort with the employees speaking in a different language.That’s $7 Whole Foods just lost. Its bad business to base your model of operations around your employees comfort and not your customers.

    Whole Foods is a publicly traded company. Legally their only responsibility is to their share holders alone. Not being an activist for interracial/intercultural relations in the US. Only leg these employees have to stand on is if like you mentioned German or French, etc, was being spoken as well but no one reprimanded that.

  • http://twitter.com/cherubicnerd L.Hoskins (@cherubicnerd)

    thank you! you bring up valid points. I am surprised by the ignorance on display in these comments. surely,if the two guys were black,they wouldn’t be siding with whole foods.

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