By Amy Paxton, Senior Employment Consultant At Croner

If you work in a company that employs a diverse workforce, then you will understand the difficulties that this sometimes presents, particularly the language issue.

Consequently many employers are demanding that English is the only language to be spoken during work hours.

But there have been a number of high profile cases recently where employers have found themselves facing union criticism and employment tribunal claims for race discrimination when they have tried to introduce this. Many feel unsure about how to handle the situation effectively.

Having a common language does have benefits and can help to create a unified workplace. However, a blanket ban may have the opposite effect. Employees that speak English as a second or third language may feel that they are being unfairly targeted, which could result in claims for race discrimination.

If you want employees to speak English, you need to think carefully about what it is you are trying to achieve. You must have a legitimate business need that outweighs the discriminatory impact on the workforce and cannot reasonably be achieved by less discriminatory methods. For example, can the business aim be achieved by stipulating that English is used when dealing with work matters or, in the case of the care industry, within the earshot of residents?

Our advice to employers thinking about implementing a common-language policy is:

- Set up focus groups to discuss the situation and possible solutions. There is evidence that decisions and agreements made in groups gain greater commitment than those made by individuals.

- Fully consult with employees giving the reasons why you are planning to make such a move.

- Make sure that any policy is not discriminatory and that all employees are made aware of the policy and the consequences of breaching the policy.

Croner provides information, advice and support to employers on a wide range of employment and safety matters. Find out more at www.cronersolutions.co.uk

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