NBC Latino Contributor: Whole Foods' English-Only Policy Inclusive

NBC Latino Contributor: Whole Foods' English-Only Policy Inclusive

A nationally syndicated columnist and NBC Latino contributor believes that Whole Foods’s policy of requiring its employees to speak English at work is not only inclusive but also just plain “common sense.”

Esther Cepeda rebukes those who jumped to conclusions and called Whole Foods “discriminatory,” “anti-diversity,” and “racist” for suspending two employees with pay for the “rude and disrespectful” way in which they complained about the company’s policy requiring them to speak English on the job. 

Contrary to initial reports, Whole Foods said the employees were not suspended for speaking Spanish, nor were they told they could not speak Spanish; at least “17 employees who attended the meeting at which the language policy was discussed” confirmed that fact. The company’s policy allows employees to speak Spanish during breaks or with other customers if “all parties present agree that a different language is their preferred form of communication.”

Cepeda, though, brings up an even more important question: even if Whole Foods prohibited employees from speaking Spanish, she asks, “what’s the problem?”

“Not too long ago people understood that when you enter into an employment agreement with a company, you’re generally expected to follow their policies,” she writes, noting that Whole Foods’s rules state: 

“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. Additionally, this policy does not apply to conversations among Team Members and customers if all parties present agree that a different language is their preferred form of communication.”

She notes this policy is “hardly draconian” and “employees can choose to follow them and work there or find a different job.” She notes that it is in the company’s interest to “minimize any heat they might get from customers who might also feel excluded if they heard employees speaking to each other in a language they don’t understand.” Further, she notes that it is “common sense” for Whole Foods to want its “diverse” workforce to have “a uniform form of communication.” 

Cepeda writes that deferring to others is inclusive and notes her “Mexican mother and Ecuadorean father taught me that it’s rude to speak Spanish in front of those who can’t understand it.”

“In their own home they rarely, if ever, speak Spanish in front of my husband and children who speak only English. They just consider it good manners,” she writes. “Those who are concerned about how Latinos are perceived in America–as unable or unwilling to speak English and more connected to their native countries than to this one–might consider that a little courtesy can go a long way.”


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