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.”
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?