Does an employer have to accommodate employees who do not speak English?

Hi! I have a Spanish speaking employee who is having trouble using the time card system set up by HR. It is an online system, and is only offered in English. I have asked that he be allowed to use a paper timesheet, because he cannot read or understand the online system. They refuse to allow this, and said that he must figure it out regardless of whether he can speak English or not. I feel that it is a reasonable accommodation to allow a paper timesheet to be used under the circumstances, yet HR will not budge. Is this a legal practice? Thanks in advance.

Posted  06-08-2011

Ann Kiernan replies:

You are obviously a thoughtful manager who cares about her employees. I am surprised that HR has been so inflexible.

The law requires employers to reasonably accommodate employee disabilities and religious practices, but not the inability to speak English. You could certainly assist the worker with time input until he becomes comfortable with the system, and could urge him to enroll in a local English as Second Language class.

Good luck.


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About the Author:

Ann Kiernan has litigated claims of wrongful discharge and discrimination before state and federal courts and administrative matters before the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights, the National Labor Relations Board and the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, representing both employers and employees. Ms. Kiernan co-hosted The Employee Rights Forum, a weekly radio call-in show reaching up to a half-million listeners in the New York metropolitan area, and her articles on employment law have been published in many books and magazines. Both as a firm partner and as a director, Ms. Kiernan gained solid experience in management and human resources compliance. She has worked with Fair Measures since 1997.