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Palm Springs restaurant cooks up English-only rule for employees

When you first walk into Billy Reed’s restaurant in Palm Springs, customers see a sign reading “It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.” Inside the kitchen, employees said they see a different sign.

“Billy Reed’s employees please do not speak Spanish to other employees anywhere in the restaurant except when necessary on the cook line, that means not in the waitress stations or at the front desk.”

“He posted the sign. He doesn’t want (anyone) to speak Spanish anywhere in the restaurant except with the cooks in the line,” said an employee.

Afraid for his job, the employee told us he overheard the restaurant’s general manager warning a co-worker.

“He said that the boss was going to fire the first one he heard talking in Spanish,” the employee said.

Restaurant owner Billy Reed confirmed they posted the sign in the kitchen for employees, because they received multiple complaints from customers saying they felt uncomfortable about employees speaking Spanish, worried the workers talked about them.

So it’s English only on the floor of the dining room, but if not, Reed said employees wouldn’t be fired for it.

“I talk to my co-workers in Spanish, that makes me feel very upset not being able to talk to them in Spanish. I do feel discriminated. I know we are in America. We have to talk in English. At the same time, we speak Spanish, that’s my first language,” the employee said.

Is it legal for employers to require workers not speak their native tongue?

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission states rules requiring employees to speak only English in the workplace violate the law unless they are reasonably necessary to the operation of the business.

A rule requiring employees to speak only English in the workplace at all times, including breaks and lunch time, will rarely be justified.

An English-only rule should be limited to the circumstances in which it is needed for the employer to operate safely or efficiently.

Circumstances in which an English-only rule may be justified include: communications with customers or coworkers who only speak English; emergencies or other situations in which workers must speak a common language to promote safety; cooperative work assignments in which the English-only rule is needed to promote efficiency.

Even if there is a need for an English-only rule, an employer may not take disciplinary action against an employee for violating the rule unless the employer has notified workers about the rule and the consequences of violating it.

Attorney Vee Sotello of Ferguson & Mule’ law, said the rule is risky for employers, especially in the Coachella Valley.

“I just want people to know what we’re going through and if there’s something we can do to stop this. I feel discrimination,” said the employee.

KESQ News Team

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