Whole Foods Market is reviewing its language policy after an incident involving two Spanish-speaking workers who have been suspended from their jobs at one of the supermarkets in Albuquerque.
This week, the two employees stated they had been punished for speaking Spanish between them while they were working. The statement has reached the media and caused extensive backlashes against this punishment, which was seen as unfair and discriminatory by a big part of the population.
THE OTHER SIDE OF THE STORY
Whole Foods Market Inc. has had to act fast to assure customers and the general public that this was, in fact, not the case at all, as there is not a rule prohibiting employees from speaking the language they desire. A statement on the company’s website says that English is chosen as the default language as a way to ensure uniformity, inclusion and as a security measure in case of emergencies. Whole Foods Market also highlights their desire to support diversity and they pride themselves on having many bilingual employees, who are told to use their own judgement to assess when it is appropriate to use one language or the other.
According to the company and 17 team members who were present in the meeting where the incident happened, these Spanish-speaking employees were suspended without pay due to their rude behaviour only.
The store has launched an investigation, causing positive reactions from the public. Gov. Susana Martinez, the only Latina governor in the United States, supported the measure and stated that she is really pleased to see the company willing to re-evaluate their own policy, especially in a state with such pervasive influence of Spanish and Latino culture. Ben Friedland, one of the company’s executive marketing coordinators, has stated that the policy does not ban Spanish, but rather makes emphasis on the use of English when addressing customers. Unless the customer switches to another language themselves, English is preferred.
According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, employers are not allowed to impose restrictive rules on language use unless they are trying to promote safety and efficiency. According to Angela B. Cornell, from the Labor Law Clinic at Cornell Law School, many of the rules regarding restrictions of language result in cases of discrimination.