Notes from a Linguistic Mystic

So, I just read a charming little news story about a company not far from me. Here’s the basic gist of it:


Gerardo Wence said he could be fired for speaking Spanish at work. According to his employer, Amalgamated Sugar Company in Brighton, employees can speak Spanish on breaks and at lunch, otherwise, it’s safety issue.

Days after he started, Wence said he had to sign a policy, agreeing to speak Spanish, only during breaks and at lunch.
“You get three write ups and you get fired. So I can literally get fired for speaking my language. I find that pathetic.”
The plant’s manager, Kevin Severson wouldn’t talk on camera, but gave a statement that said, “Employees can speak Spanish on personal time, because we want to make sure there are no safety issues occurring from the lack of communication.”
Severson added, “Everyone who comes through the door is given safety documentation in English, employees need to read, understand and be able to communicate in English.”
Wence said of the four Spanish speakers working at the plant, two barely speak English.

So, we’ve got an employer forcing employees to speak only English on the job, under pain of dismissal. That’s charming, but not unusual, similar cases have been battled out in courts in the past.

However, what makes me a bit livid here is his “safety” excuse when some employees “barely speak English”. Apparently, it’s safer to explain safety measures and give warnings in English to employees who don’t understand English. Presumably, this company hired these employees knowing that they weren’t English proficient, so this manager decided then that he’d have to use some other methods to communicate with them for safety, but now, for some reason, he’s decided to enact this policy instead. Information helps ensure safety. Information needs to be understandable. Banning people from giving this information in an understandable way to these employees is not safe.

So, Mr. Severson, what exactly are you trying to accomplish? I hate to break it to you, but this little policy won’t make your factory any safer. It will, however, make your workplace a bit less diverse, but that might be what you wanted all along.

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