Labour Research (September 2012)

Law Queries

Native language at work

Q. Our workforce includes a number of union members who are originally from Slovakia. Management have just given a warning to one of our members for chatting in Slovak with his Slovakian colleagues. They haven’t complained about chatting before, but they now say only English conversation is permitted. Is this lawful?

A. The employer is likely guilty of discrimination. The employer by issuing your member with a warning and instructing him and staff not to speak in Slovakian has probably committed direct race discrimination.

In Dziedziak v Future Electronics Limited UKEAT/0270/11/ZT, the Employment Appeal Tribunal tackled a similar issue. It found that an instruction by an employer to an employee not to speak in their native language was discrimination. In particular, that the employer had committed unlawful race discrimination on the grounds of the employee’s nationality.

However, a management instruction to speak (or not to speak) a certain language in the workplace may not always be discriminatory. For example, a request by an employer may be reasonable for safety reasons.

For full transcripts of judicial decisons visit the British and Irish Legal Information Institute’s website at

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