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And While We’re On The Subject of Translation Frustration…

Dear Etiquette Hell,

I work in a fairly large and diverse organisation, and many people speak a language other than English. Several people have said to me how nice it is to speak their first language with other people, now that they live in an English speaking country. Our manager has even drawn up a list of people willing to translate for customers if needed. However recently there was a complaint made, where one person thought others were talking about them in our break room, and specifically speaking Chinese so as not to be understood. We all received an email informing us that “it is not appropriate to speak in a language other than English” while in the break room. I was shocked, as it seems quite racist to impose this kind of rule.

I believe that the faux pas rests with the offended staff member in thinking that anyone would talk about them while they were present, but use another language to do so. In addition, it is not like there are only two people who speak Chinese, there are at least 30-40 people, so using it like a secret language would not make any sense. A group of staff members has since gone to our union to work out a response.

Is the manager correct, that being respectful involves only speaking English? Or is the offended person being paranoid and oversensitive in thinking people are talking about them? 0426-17

There are more clues that a person is being talked about behind their back than simply a group of people sitting at a table talking in another language.   Clues such as surreptitious sideways glances towards the person allegedly being talked about, or the name appears in the midst of sentences.  And if there is a history of conflict or misunderstanding or exclusion between that person and the people sitting talking then, yes, there can be a reasonable concern that someone is being talked about behind their back.    I suspect there is more to this story than you are aware of because HR/management felt the need to make this rule.

Management has the challenging task of maintaining employee morale and teamwork for maximum productivity.   On company property, I do think management/owners can dictate a rule of English only, particularly in an English speaking country, while on company time and property.   English is the language of business after all.  What employees do on their own time away from the company property is their own business in regards to what language they speak.

{ 136 comments }
{ 136 comments… add one }
  • Aleko February 26, 2018, 4:45 am

    I entirely agree with Jeanne that OP is being over-hasty and unkind to blame the complainant, who may have had non-verbal clues giving her good reason to suppose the conversation was about her. As for this being unlikely: heaven knows, plenty of people are prepared to talk spitefully about a third party in a language common to them all, let alone in a language the third party doesn’t understand.

    And yes, the management does have the right to ban the use of other languages. And while it might be considered something of an overreaction to impose the ban after a single incident, if something similar were to happen more than once there would really be no other course open to them.

    • Livvy17 February 26, 2018, 4:20 pm

      I’m sorry, but I have to disagree with you. HR does NOT have the right to ban people from speaking other languages, except in the course of normal work. In the case listed above, where employees were chatting in a break room.

      Demanding people speak the language of your choice other than as part of work IS considered racist, and can land the company in a huge discrimination lawsuit. (National Origin Discrimination- protected under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.) Actually, this particular circumstance is listed as an example on the EEOC page concerning this type of discrimination.
      https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/types/nationalorigin.cfm

      • Kate 2 February 27, 2018, 11:43 am

        The EEOC doesn’t actually make the laws nor does it really get to interpret them. More than once the EEOC has said something is discriminatory (like banning dreadlocks) only to be overruled in the court system. Basically the EEOC can *say* something is discriminatory, but that’s really only advice. It is actually our judicial branches that have the final say on how laws are interpreted and what they really mean.

  • Lindsey February 26, 2018, 5:16 am

    I think the staff member was right to be offended. At best it was rude of the Chinese speakers to exclude that staff member from joining in with the conversation.

    I once worked (in England) in a café which had a large number of Turkish staff. The Turkish staff would speak Turkish to each other, pointedly stare at me and then resume their conversation. It used to make me feel so angry, if you’re talking about me, at least have the decency to speak it in a language that I can understand. These Turkish speakers were all born in England, so it wasn’t like the English language was a struggle for them.

  • Zhaleh February 26, 2018, 6:58 am

    I was so happy to read admin’s response. I wasn’t expecting it.

    Racism exists. It always will. But any talk of anything to do with differences does not immediately make some one racist.

    And OP mentioned a work place with many different nationalities. This means there are more racial tensions than normal in the mix. It may surprise some to learn that tensions between the Chinese and Japanese still exist. The Bangladeshi people and the Pakistani people still have conflicts, Israeli’s and Palestinians, Iraq and Iran, The French and The English etc…

    Often times, when people from all these different places move to an English speaking country and have to speak English together, misunderstandings are cleared up, prejudices disappear, friendships are made and words sent back home that may or may not help.

    I personally like it when people find common ground to come together, rather than using their differences to exclude others or ensure that separation is always present.

    • Kirsten February 26, 2018, 10:32 am

      As a Brit, I’m surprised to hear there are racial tensions between the French and the English, and I bet the French would be surprised too.

      • Aleko February 27, 2018, 3:39 am

        As a other Brit, I agree. But we and the French do share a mutual running gag about the appalling ness of les rosbifs/the Frogs, which I suspect other nations mistakenly take at face value.

        • Zhaleh February 27, 2018, 5:07 am

          As someone who lived in the UK for awhile and heard constant remarks (jokingly) about the French, as well as the French being one of the targets of comedians such as John Cleese and Rowan Atkinson, I’m surprised the Brits are surprised! ?
          I don’t think the jokes are there after someone just made up tensions that don’t exist. And the fact that I still hear the jokes tells me there must still be something there.
          I’ve also spent time in France, I dare you to ask what they think of the English.
          But, yes I realize the tension is mainly jokey on the Brit size, but I stand by my statement.

          • Aleko February 27, 2018, 10:41 am

            Of course the jokes came out of something! Our countries were enemies, and rivals for the leadership of the Western world, for getting on for half a millennium. Then (a)the USA overtook both of us in the leadership-of-the-Western-world stakes, and (b) a united Germany came on the scene, obliging us to become allies, which we have been for well over a century. Sure, ours is an Odd Couple, best-of-enemies relationship, but we are close.

            And yes, I also have spent time in France, and have many good friends in France. They agree with me.

          • Dee February 28, 2018, 10:33 am

            There’s similar tension between western Canada and the east, particularly Quebec. Growing up I heard a lot of derogatory slings made against the French, mostly done out of extreme frustration at how our country caters to that one, small segment of the population, to the detriment of all others, and the appalling Quebec attitude. We aren’t “British” in the west, although we’re constantly being told that we are, but to an outsider it does look like a “British vs. French” thing. It’s an equality and discrimination thing, and there would be more than one sigh of relief in this part of the country if Quebec really did make good on their promise to separate. At least until they sack us with the bill, yet again …

      • Kate 2 February 27, 2018, 11:44 am

        Really? The French and English have hated each other for centuries! Maybe that has stopped in the past 50 or so years, but it is a huge part of history.

        • Kirsten March 5, 2018, 12:07 pm

          But none of that is the same as racial tension. An American workplace staffed by English and French people wouldn’t have Anglo/French tensions in the way there might be Indian/Pakistani/Bangladeshi tensions, or Chinese/Hong Kong tensions. And as far as the Scots are concerned, the French are equal partners in the Auld Alliance.

          • sillyme March 7, 2018, 1:45 pm

            As someone who lived in England briefly, I did see racism, but not particularly against the French. This is not to say the English are racist.

            As a Southerner living in New England, I’m sensitive to the stereotype that all U.S. Southerners have a poor education and are intensely, overtly racist.

            The fact is, there individual members of any group, country or ethnic origin who can be racist against members of any other group, country, religion or ethnic origin.

            I’ve seen racist policies expressed in corporations (a memo for people not to use the microwaves for “smelly” foods when we had a large number of Indian consultants).

            Was there a better way for H.R. to handle it? Perhaps. Was the employee wrong in bringing the matter to H.R.’s attention? No. It was H.R.’s responsibility to handle things in a non-racist manner. The employee did, as far as we know, and as much as anyone has a right to know.

  • Anon February 26, 2018, 7:00 am

    I think the management acted erroneously. First, everyone speaking English is no solution to the problem of workplace harassment. Plenty of people are the victims of all kinds of harassment, even when they can understand every word. If somebody wanted to talk about someone, they wouldn’t need another language to do it. Secondly, this is a legal issue rather than an etiquette one. I’m not a lawyer, but just a cursory google search brought up reputable sources suggesting that companies CAN regulate the language of business, but they cannot regulate the language of casual conversations (including in the breakroom). Obviously laws differ, but given that the Chinese contingent has gone to their union about it, I’m guessing they have a very good chance of having it reversed. Finally, if that group wasn’t talking about her before, they sure are now.

    • Tan February 26, 2018, 8:28 am

      I agree. I’ve heard of people being told not to speak their language during work /in the office but during breaks /in the break room? Even if it’s legal, its ill advised. I know plenty of (non-English) Europians who’d start eating their lunch /having coffee by the front door or in their car if management tried it and then, well… those staff members would quite literally have one foot out the door.

    • TracyX February 26, 2018, 12:05 pm

      There is a safety reason for requiring English as well (or whatever the language of the business is). In event of an emergency such as a rapidly spreading fire, you might need to communicate quickly. If someone is in the habit of speaking English in the workplace, then there is a better chance that their warning will be in English as opposed to a language that only part of the staff will understand. It can cut down on injuries, etc.

      • keloe February 27, 2018, 5:27 am

        Seriously? What a weird argument.

        1. We are talking about multilingual people who are able to easily switch between languages. They are in the habit of speaking English in the workplace, because that’s their common language and they are probably used to speaking it outside the office as well. Chatting over coffee in Chinese or any other language will not break them out of that habit.
        2. There are fire alarms.
        3. Sometimes when people are in shock, maybe because there is a rapidly spreading fire, their logic circuits turn off and they might revert to their own language, habit or no habit. Luckily such events are rare.

        • keloe February 27, 2018, 5:28 am

          And honestly, if HR tried to restrict me to one language claiming that otherwise I might not be well understood in case of fire… I don’t even know what I would do. Probably quit and go to newspapers.

  • Kate Musso February 26, 2018, 7:26 am

    Oh boy, this is actually a big thing in my little tiny town that only has one grocery store. We only have about a thousand people that live here in the winter time but it goes up to 30 40 50 thousand in the summertime due to us being a beach destination. The grocery store always hires a bunch of kids from Europe and Asia to work there, and of course sometimes they’ll talk to each other in their own language because, well, that’s their language! But many customers complained that they thought they were being made fun of, so now none of these kids can use their own language at work.

  • ErinAnn February 26, 2018, 8:28 am

    On break, in the break room? No, management doesn’t get to ban or limit languages. I’d love to see statutes that allow that power to employers.

    • TracyX February 26, 2018, 12:07 pm

      As you said “in the break room.” Meaning on company property. They can very much dictate how employees act when they are on company property. If the employee doesn’t like it, then they need to go elsewhere for their break.

    • SamiHami February 26, 2018, 1:53 pm

      Sure they can, and they should. They can ban smoking on their property, they can ban the use of foul language and they most definitely can ban the use of other languages by employees. It is very divisive and creates an “us vs. them” mentality.

      • admin February 26, 2018, 7:40 pm

        And employers can have codes of conduct, clothing code, non-compete agreements, how company electronics are used, etc.

    • Felicity February 26, 2018, 2:05 pm

      You’d be surprised…I’m not a lawyer, but I think there’s probably a difference between being a salaried-employee on a paid lunch break in the company break room verses being hourly and legitimately off-the-clock in a break room.

      I mean my employer prohibits its employees from listing them as an employer on any private social media accounts, which is pretty off-the-clock and far reaching, but it’s in the handbook as part of the company rules (and I do understand why.)

      • Livvy17 February 27, 2018, 10:49 am

        It’s also true that some companies will put out rules that they don’t know they shouldn’t, or that could be challenged in court. Sometimes the lines of employer rights and employee rights are very messy. In the USA, employees have the right to discuss their employers / conditions of employment. Barring saying untrue things, they can talk about their employers, even to say negative things, share salary amounts, etc. The employer may not like it, and may discourage it, but legally, they can’t forbid it. It’s called “concerted activity” and it’s protected by the National Labor Relations Board, even for employees who are not in a union.
        https://www.nlrb.gov/rights-we-protect/employee-rights

    • ladyv21454 February 27, 2018, 5:52 pm

      Please see Livvy17’s post and link above. A company can require employees to speak English as part of their job, but CANNOT otherwise restrict use of other languages.

    • Suzanne Lucas February 28, 2018, 4:43 am

      A company can only require people to speak English all the time when there are safety concerns. They absolutely, positively, cannot make the break room English only.

  • Ami February 26, 2018, 8:31 am

    I live in a country which is multi-lingual in the extreme, and am often in the position where I am being waited on by a person who is chatting to another person in a language I don’t understand. Often I am pretty sure that their conversation has nothing to do with me, but the occasions where I have not been sure of that are pretty frequent as well. It is very uncomfortable and leads to suspicion between differing language speakers. Some of the schools have mandated that children may only speak in English or another majority language in school to avoid this very problem, as well as disrespectful comments directed at teachers in a language they may not understand. It does impinge on personal freedoms, certainly, and I can imagine situations where this rule should “slide” a little, but on the whole it probably leads to greater camaraderie within an organization.

    • Zhaleh February 26, 2018, 10:54 am

      I’m a person whose family’s native language isn’t English. But we feel we have to be respectful of the country we live in.
      I’ve had a similar experience where, I’m being served, and there is a conversation amongst the staff in a language I don’t understand, and I’m not sure whether it’s work related, so I’ll wait until their done to interrupt with further requests, or it’s not work related, in which case, I would like to interrupt because I can see that my order is being worked on and I want to make sure it’s right.
      It does put a bit of a strain on relations. If I am served politely, and completely, of course I don’t mind chatter in a language I don’t understand, but mid-service it’s frustrating because I’m not quite sure what’s happening and how things are going.

      Also, I wish schools had more respect for English, both children born in the country should have a better understanding and kids here to immerse should do just that or their education will be delayed by avoiding English anytime they can.

      Although my parents spoke Farsi at home while I attended school, I didn’t speak it at all at school. Even to the other Persian kids and there were a lot of us at the time from those who fled the revolution. It doesn’t help children at all to speak their mother tongue at school.

      • Rod February 27, 2018, 4:37 pm

        It certainly doesn’t help a child to speak English if you address them in a different language. But it definitely is a life skill (and jury is out if being multilingual actually improves other types of intelligence).

        But regarding service in other languages… Maybe it’s the very multicultural neighbourhood and city we live in, but I know I don’t trust an ethnic food establishment that doesn’t speak the language. That’s how you get chimichangas passing as “traditional Mexican” food.

        Fortunately, school kids attend encourages them to learn from other kids. So on top of their normative English and French they know the numbers in Mandarin and Spanish. And how to say hello and goodbye in Italian in addition. How is that hurting them? I have no idea.

  • AMC February 26, 2018, 8:56 am

    I am going to disagree somewhat with Admin here. I think this was a case of bad management. If the complainant has a legitimate basis for their suspicion, then the manager should have addressed the issue with only those involved. Making this sweeping rule seems dumb, unfair, and ineffectual. How does making the break-room an English-only zone stop coworkers from gossiping about each other elsewhere in the building?

    • Miss-E February 26, 2018, 10:01 am

      I agree. It seems like this was a one-off and should have just been dealt with directly rather than blanketing the whole company with this.

  • cleosia February 26, 2018, 9:04 am

    I think the problem with management dictating that only English be spoken rests with the fact that it is NOT being done on company time. Most companies don’t pay for your break/lunch time, therefore, that time does NOT belong to the company. They may require that while on the clock you speak English only but once you clock out, all bets are off.

    • Rattus February 26, 2018, 10:52 am

      It is not the company’s time, no, but it is their property.

    • SamiHami February 26, 2018, 1:54 pm

      They can dictate that they speak English only while on company property.

      • Livvy17 February 27, 2018, 10:50 am

        At least in the USA, they can’t.

    • SS February 26, 2018, 2:29 pm

      That is exactly my reaction to this declaration. Although a company can legally mandate behaviors inside their building, telling employees what language they can speak to each other WHEN THEY ARE OFF THE CLOCK on their lunch inside the building is outrageous.

  • Michelle February 26, 2018, 9:17 am

    One thing I have learned from working in an office for 16 years and being present for HR/personnel meetings is that there often a good reason (or several good reasons) for these types of decisions and it gets discussed and approved by the higher level of management before it goes out. Most, if not all, of the staff not involved usually do not get to hear the reason(s) behind it because of privacy policies/laws. Staff often only get a single version of the story and, most of the time, that story is not entirely correct. Often that story comes in the form of whispered gossip and we all know that gossip can be twisted a thousand ways to make the story “juicer”.

    Employers make many decisions that are not popular. Sometimes we think those rules are unfair. Just because a rule seems to be unfair and is unpopular does not mean it is racist. I can understand the staff who speak Chinese not liking this rule, but most states allow employers to make these types of decisions. Unfortunately, it sometimes comes down to deciding if you can live with a rule you don’t like or if you need to move on.

  • Annie February 26, 2018, 9:33 am

    As a French-Canadian, working in a Canadian-English non-profit, I would trow a fit if I coudn’t speak to my other French-speaking collegues in our native language.

    Don’t get me wrong, all of the french people are bilingual so we make the effort to speak english if we are in the presence of other people. However, for our casual conversations, nobody can tell me what language to use.

    As long as you haven’t been in that situation, working 40 hours per week in another language than your own, you have no idea how hard it can be. It sometimes gives me headaches. Being able to speak french during my breaks gives my brain a pause and also, helps me connect with people that are from my background.

    • admin February 26, 2018, 9:56 am

      If you find your work environment stressful, there is “voting with your feet”, meaning you find other employment that suits you. The break room is on company property and there the management can dictate the behavior of its employees on company property.

      • Annie February 26, 2018, 10:23 am

        Actually no, I have the right to speak my native language at work. In Canada, we have language and harassment rights.

        If an employer doesn’t allow people to speak in the language of their chosing between them for casuals conversations and during break, that is considered harassment.

      • Tan February 26, 2018, 10:28 am

        Can they? I’m not overly familiar with Canadian employment law but I would suspect that management can only tell you what to do “on the clock” not “on the premises”. If breaks are unpaid and not in view of a customer then I doubt it is alright to tell people what language to use. Even if they were in full view of a customer, an employment tribunal would have to show that a private conversation in French was detrimental to the business for it not to be discrimination. Bare in mind many people in Canada are bilingual and in some parts of Canada it is actually illegal for a large enough company (in terms of staff numbers) not to offer to do business in French or English, so it is unlikely that a customer would object to hearing the use of a different language to their own.

        • Dee February 26, 2018, 8:38 pm

          Tan, you’re right that many people in Canada are bilingual, but very few of them have both French and English as their two languages. Most people have their own native language and English, and maybe, but not very likely, some French as well. And the Quebec French are likely not to be fluent in English at all. There is this enduring – and annoying – myth that we all have the same two languages that we speak. It’s a fantasy perpetuated by our federal governments, in an effort to appease Quebec. But we never pretend to speak or even know French, and Quebec never pretends to speak English. And, in between, are a myriad of mother tongues and communities where that language is the first, and sometimes main, language.

      • Soop February 26, 2018, 11:08 am

        Annie works in Canada. Pretty sure employers cannot dictate in that way. Business meetings, work related conversations, yes, but not on breaks.

      • staceyizme February 26, 2018, 11:31 am

        The issue of fatigue isn’t a subjective one in the use of a second language for most multi-lingual people, since few people are truly bilingual from infancy. While it’s true that anyone can vote with their feet to leave a job, jobs aren’t so easy to come by. And the degree of forced compliance in a situation like this is no small hardship. When I use a language other than English, I find it difficult to transition and difficult to sustain, even though I have a good background in a couple of languages due to school, work and a childhood spent overseas. Being able to use one’s native language is a real physical and mental relief and the denial of such a basic prerogative is an exceptional incursion into personal social and psychological space. The anger or irritation by way of response from those who contemplate being faced with such a prospect is born of real fear and anxiety, not mere preference.

      • Calli Arcale February 26, 2018, 1:01 pm

        It is not always possible to find other suitable employment; sometimes we must accept a certain amount of imperfection in our employer. That doesn’t mean we have to like it, admin, or that we are not allowed to air grievances, or that we cannot expect management to ever have our own interests at heart. You are correct that the management can constrain the behavior of employees on company ground; however, this is not an absolute right of theirs, and there are limits to what they can demand. I sit next to a Pakistani at work; he has brief conversations on the phone with his wife in Urdu, and now that we have an Urdu-speaking Afghan here as well, they sometimes speak to one another in their native languages. It does not cause any problems, and both are highly proficient English speakers.

        In particular, in Canada, banning the use of French in the breakroom would likely get the employer fined. It is not an exotic foreign language in Canada; it is one of two official languages of the nation and it is protected far more strongly than, for instance, Spanish in the US.

        • admin February 26, 2018, 7:42 pm

          *sigh* French is ONE of TWO OFFICIAL languages in Canada. We’re not talking about restricting the use of an official language of the country in which the business resides.

          • Dee February 26, 2018, 8:33 pm

            Punjabi and the native languages are not our official languages, but you’d get in a heap of legal trouble if you tried to ban those in a Canadian workplace. There is a grey legal area where a condo association chose to conduct all its business in a Chinese language, and the small minority of English-speaking owners had no success in requiring the association to use at least one of the official languages as well as the Chinese. In the end, those who couldn’t speak the Chinese had to sell their units or forever live in ignorance of the laws and rules of their strata. Here in Canada, I doubt any employer could ban any language from the workplace, including during work hours.

          • Annie Lapointe February 26, 2018, 9:04 pm

            Actually admin, in Canada, it doesn’t matter what language you are talking, French, English, Punjabi. You can talk the language of your choosing during breaks and with colleagues if everyone understands that language. Meetings are another thing but for the rest, it is considered harassment to discrimate against someone language, race, religion, etc. Why should it bother me if two collegues have a conversation in Spanish? I’m not entitled to everything and everyone.

          • admin February 27, 2018, 6:52 am

            I’ll say this to everyone, not just as a reply to Annie Lapointe. If you are proficiently bilingual and business is conducted in the predominant language of the country, you have an unrealistic expectation that your need to speak your native language on company time and property is more important than company morale, team building or the consideration for others who do not speak your native language but rather the de facto predominant language. If you *know* that speaking in your native language with others is causing distress to others who may be misinterpreting it or management feels it is not conducive to team building, you are the problem. You can speak English (or French or whatever) but you are choosing not to for the sake of your choices. Go off property on your own time to indulge the need to speak in your native tongue but when on company time and property you honor management practices and do your job or you find another job. People have sought economic freedom by emigrating to a new country for generations…that’s how far people will go to “vote with their feet” to find better opportunities. The migration of the population over time shows people willing to move to cities with better job opportunities. Can’t move? Start your own business. Mine was a home pet care service over 37 years ago. Get a new education in a marketable skill and change careers.

            A business owner has invested capital and financial risks to build the business and I uphold the right of the business owners to determine their own policies on their company time, property that they believe promotes company values, ethics and productivity. As seen in the Bad Bosses/Business area of this site, some business practices are bad but I uphold their right to make bad decisions as well as the right of the employees to leave in droves and customers to abandon it. Staying employed in a situation you find unacceptable means you lack a spine to do anything truly productive to change your life.

            And a warning…there is a legitimate “other side of the story” and I suggest not using a race card to discredit valid arguments.

          • Skaramouche February 27, 2018, 9:59 am

            I agree that the race card is WAY overplayed these days, exhaustingly so. I also completely agree with your point that business owners should be allowed to run their businesses as they see fit. However, all I’m saying is that I don’t think that language is the problem in this case. It’s people. It’s always people. I’ve seen people in the workplace who purposefully use their native languages to poke fun at and talk about others. It’s deplorable. I’ve also seen paranoid, only-English speakers who freak out and think that if someone is speaking another language, it MUST be about them. The point is though, forcing gossipers to stop speaking another language isn’t going to stop the gossip. They’ll find another way and do it with a vengeance because now they genuinely have something to gossip about.

            Also by banning other languages, HR is likely asking for more trouble. They cannot police everyone all the time and this sort of edict creates a low level of tension and discontent that will spread through the employees. Insisting on English when serving customers or having meetings or in the general office presence of other English speaking employees makes sense. In the break room, on break? I think they are asking for trouble.

            Secondly, I find that typically, it’s people who speak only one language who are resistant to others being spoken. Those who speak more than one are, in my humble experience, rarely truly offended when a different language is spoken in their presence even though it might not be one they understand. All I’m trying to say is that the fault may well lie on either side and a blanket ban on other languages may not be the answer.

          • AS February 27, 2018, 7:37 pm

            I agree with you, Admin.

            And (as I pointed out earlier), when I had stayed in a Spanish-speaking country, the pre-dominant language even in break-rooms was Spanish, even though work at the office was conducted in English, and there were people from several nationalities. And guess what – no one that I know of complained! Yes, they (me included) were frustrated. But never complained, because we were in predominantly Spanish speaking country, where knowing Spanish is essential.

            And RACE DOES NOT COME INTO THE PICTURE! PERIOD! Admin is on the spot about that.

          • admin February 28, 2018, 4:11 am

            If I live in a non-English speaking country, it’s my obligation to learn the language, conduct business in that language, work in that language and not have an expectation that the residents of that country must accommodate my insufficiency in speaking their language. It’s viewed as being courteous and a good citizen of the country you now live in.

          • keloe February 28, 2018, 7:39 am

            As someone who lived in various countries and hung out with a lot of expats I can tell you this is not the case. If you decide to move permanently, it is generally a good idea (and of you want to request citizenship – a must), but e.g. employees of large multi-national companies who get moved from country to country every year or two, do not learn the local language every time. Some of them learn the basics, so that they can hold a simple conversation and do their shopping, but few move past that and many do not bother. Especially as their workplaces usually have English as the language of business
            Even people who can chat to locals over a beer for a while usually have trouble with actual business talk, as it is the most difficult.

          • Kristen February 26, 2018, 10:38 pm

            You make a very interesting point! I assumed this story took place in America, and was this shocked by the results. However, as you mentioned this probably took place in a country with an official language. As I’m sure you’re aware – America has no official language but if this occurred in another country, one with an official language, I might be more inclined to consider managements perspective. That being said, I am also not aware of non American legal statutes. In America this would be considered illegal – although not likely to be enforced.

          • admin February 27, 2018, 5:11 am

            While there is no federal statute making English the official language of the US, a significant number of states do. The following states have existing official language laws on their books mandating English as the official language of the state: Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, Wyoming. Hawaii also lists Hawaiian as an official state language as well. That’s 27 out of 50 states that have English as their state language.

            I don’t know where this story occurred.

          • dancecommander February 28, 2018, 1:17 am

            We can argue until we’re blue in the face about whether or not these employees should or shouldn’t speak their native/preferred language in the break room. It will not change the fact that if this occurred in the US, HR’s policy is not legal.

            https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/types/nationalorigin.cfm

            “An employer can only require an employee to speak fluent English if fluency in English is necessary to perform the job effectively. An “English-only rule”, which requires employees to speak only English on the job, is only allowed if it is needed to ensure the safe or efficient operation of the employer’s business and is put in place for nondiscriminatory reasons.”

            If someone really wants to go for it and try to argue that there’s a safety/efficiency issue with speaking another language while on break and in the break room, well… then I’ll give you props for ambition 😉

          • admin February 28, 2018, 4:06 am

            Notice how that statute is written to give a wide latitude of interpretation and application, particularly this sentence: An “English-only rule”, which requires employees to speak only English on the job, is only allowed if it is needed to ensure the safe or efficient operation of the employer’s business and is put in place for nondiscriminatory reasons.”

            “…or efficient operation of the employer’s business and is put in place for nondiscriminatory reasons.” If management determines that employees sitting in groups in a break room speaking their own native languages is creating an inefficient operation of the business by destroying morale and team work and thus productivity, that appears to fulfill the letter of the law. Banning ALL secondary languages is not discriminatory.

          • Wild Irish Rose February 28, 2018, 10:05 am

            “Destroying morale and team work and thus productivity.” The onus of proving that co-workers speaking their native language is disruptive to the workplace is on the offended employee, and if a person is insistent that people speaking a language he doesn’t understand is offensive, then I submit that HE is the problem and will probably look for offense anywhere he can.

          • Livvy17 February 28, 2018, 1:40 pm

            By that rationale, any activity or overheard conversation in the lunchroom that offended any other single employee should be banned. It’s simply impossible to create blanket rules that prevent anyone from being offended. In the original example, I believe the Chinese-speakers are likely now offended.

            By safe and efficient operations, they are talking about production environments, or other on-the-clock work needs that might require mandating English (or another language) as part of work operations, such as greeting customers, or handling client complaints, or communicating safety rules, etc.

            “Office Harmony” or “Avoid offending the one person who thinks someone is talking about her” are not usually considered business safety or efficiency concerns.

            I think you could also very genuinely make the argument that team work and office morale are in a lot more danger when an entire group of people (30-40 Chinese speakers referenced by OP) are told that while they’re on their own time, that they cannot speak their own language, due to management siding with one may-or-may-not-be paranoid native speaker. In favor of placating the one, they offended the many. That’s not good team management, or efficient in any way, and smacks of discrimination.

            Employers can certainly address the problem directly, by talking to the offended person and the people she felt were discussing her, but issuing a blanket order for everyone, even on their own time off, is a problem. If one person told HR they didn’t like the smell of tunafish, would it seem reasonable to ban the entire office from eating it? If HR were to issue such a policy, wouldn’t the many people banned from eating tunafish wonder why the one person’s wants and wishes were more important than their own? And wouldn’t they be in their rights to demand additional policies to address their own dislikes? On what basis do you favor one over the other?

      • Livvy17 February 26, 2018, 4:30 pm

        Not in the USA. I believe in Canada that French is also recognized as an official language of Canada. I’d imagine they probably have some rules on the books about discrimination against French speakers.

        I don’t believe someone should have to give up a good job because other people are uncomfortable about what language they speak, their accent, etc.

        HR can certainly have a conversation with folks who are demonstrating the other signs of talking about someone (staring, whispering, etc.) and ask them to be more polite, but not more. Certainly, if HR does nothing to address the situation at all, or the behavior doesn’t change, the OP could/should consider finding another job for his/her own happiness, but legally speaking, they shouldn’t have to do so.

    • Zhaleh February 26, 2018, 11:06 am

      But French is an official language of Canada, so it wouldn’t be classified as a foreign language.

      Also, it goes to show that someone has to make one rule because the group won’t agree on anything.

      I still think in Farsi, but I speak in English publicly because I live in an English speaking country.

      My parents didn’t appreciate Arabic being forced on them in Iran, because the country’s language was Farsi until 1979 when a language and religion was forced upon everyone. But it’s seems a bit strange to be irritated by a language that is one of the country’s official languages.

      I can’t imagine moving to Quebec and being annoyed that I’m expected to speak French at work and to most people. I spent a few weeks in La Pocatiere to learn French. I can tell you the locals there had no love for the English language, but I was there for the French. So French it was.

    • Dee February 26, 2018, 12:11 pm

      I’m one of those Canadian “English”, don’t speak a lick of French, and support your right to speak French, sign language, Klingon, whatever you want, during your break time. And I also love the way you spelled ‘throw’ – I heard your accent right there!

      I don’t expect people at work to be my friends. I don’t expect them to be friendly to me. I don’t expect them to talk to me during break times (in fact, that’s the time when I’m hoping to finally be alone! Yea!). I just need to be treated with respect. That’s all. If a group of people are milling around, talking in a language foreign, and it could possibly be that they are talking about me, I don’t care. In fact, I’m sure they ARE talking about me, since the odds are that at least some portion of the conversation is about fellow employees.

      But if I’m not 100% sure they’re talking about me, then what’s the problem? And, if I’m that sure, then I also need to be 100% sure that the reference to me is derogatory. It’s entirely possible they’re saying flattering things about me. And, again, if they’re saying derogatory things about me that’s okay, as long as it doesn’t affect how I’m treated on the floor.

      Honestly, everyone talks about everyone else at work, since that’s the environment people are in until they are released at the end of the work day. That’s normal. It may even be healthy, depending on the circumstances. And if the “foreign” language is banned then people are just going to gather close together and whisper, and how is that going to be make the paranoid feel better? Or is whispering going to be next on the ban list? Followed by associating in numbers larger than one?

      • Rod February 27, 2018, 4:42 pm

        Idem. I’m the “wrong” type of bilingual in the capital of Canada. It’s awesome to have Chinese speakers, Farsi speakers, a Catalonian, a Norwegian, a couple of Spanish and maybe 15 French-Canadians. All in a smallish 40 person office. We recently got someone that speaks Swahili as the first African language speaker. It’s great.

        At a previous job I usually chatted with a Laotian employee who wanted to know Spanish phrases and reciprocated. I never managed to get the writing, though 🙂

  • Nyasha February 26, 2018, 10:22 am

    Does this ban on speaking other languages extend to the “free” translation/interpretation services being provided by the employees?

    • MD February 27, 2018, 11:48 am

      This is not a free service, if you are bilingual then part of the hiring decision is based on the skills you bring to the position – the employee is being paid for their work which includes being bilingual and translating for customers

  • Lerah99 February 26, 2018, 10:28 am

    I disagree with the Admin on this one.

    It was in the break room. This wasn’t a work conversation, business meeting, or work transaction.

    If someone felt they were being made fun of by a coworker, they should be an adult and confront the coworker directly. If it’s one incident in a series of incidents and harassment then they should go to HR and HR should deal with the individuals involved.

    To ban all languages except English while on company property is lazy management. A show of doing “something” rather than actually addressing the issue, one coworker feeling they were verbally attacked by another.

    I’ll use an example from my own office for why this is silly.
    I worked for a small company that had about 43 employees.

    A bunch of the contact center ladies were in the break room for lunch.
    About 5 of them were discussing Game of Thrones and how attractive they found different actors in it.
    Comments like “John Snow may know nothing, but I wouldn’t kick him out of bed for eating crackers.”

    Another woman from the contact center went to management to complain.
    She stated that as a Christian she found the fantasy and magic in Game of Thrones to be against the bible. And she takes her lunch breaks to pray and read her bible. But that day she was unable to “find the holy spirit” because the air was filled with talk about this show inspired by Satan.

    Lazy management would be passing a decree “No talking about Game of Thrones in the office.”
    Good management involved working with the woman who complained and offering her an empty office to pray in during her lunch break.

    Same thing here. Banning all languages except English in the break room is lazy and punishes employees who have done nothing wrong.

    • Miss-E February 27, 2018, 10:04 am

      Wow that is the most absurd thing I’ve ever heard. Some people really just try to be offended. A very religious coworker once asked me not to talk about my live-in boyfriend because it “hurt her heart” to think of me living in sin. Nuts.

      I agree that both your management and the management in this story should have dealt with these problems head-on, rather than enact these blanket policies.

    • Livvy17 February 27, 2018, 11:10 am

      Yes, to all of this. The other alternative would be to talk to the person complaining to let her know that everyone has an equal right to their beliefs in the break room.

      I once rolled out a new work-run employee social media site, and reminded everyone to be cautious in posting things of a religious nature, etc. on the site. One employee called me up, to tell me how offended he was that I had essentially banned religious discussions on the site, and how he felt that there should be more God in the workplace. I spent some time talking to him about it, and then asked him how he would feel if the site was filled with invitations to Mosque or to Pagan rituals, etc. He then grasped that what others found inspiring might not be the same as what he found inspiring.

    • staceyizme February 27, 2018, 11:35 pm

      Pretty good illustration!

  • Lolkay February 26, 2018, 10:46 am

    English is my first language, but I speak and study mulitple languages. I think management was wrong, and its slightly ethnocentric to say, more or less, ‘they can speak whatever they want outside of work, but English is the language of business’.

    Not in the breakroom, and while I agree there may be nonverbal signs hinting someone could be talking about you, we don’t know. I’ve had perfectly harmless conversations with my close friends in Japanese about studying my major and had non-involved folks trying to claim ‘we were talking about them’, because how dare we not speak English in a public setting. That rule needs to be reversed, and I won’t be shocked if it is.

    I think its best not to be concerned about a conversation other folks are having with each other in their own language, and if they’re with your group socially and constantly excluding you on purpose, find new folks to socialize with, but also think that maybe they’re trying to cling with comfort as well because speaking a language that isn’t your native is hard and mentally tiring. Wait for patterns for the scenarios you find yourself in before making assumptions or conclusions.

    • Kristen February 26, 2018, 10:40 pm

      I agree!

    • Kate 2 February 27, 2018, 11:53 am

      It isn’t ethnocentric to require your employees, when on your premises, speak the language of business and government in your country. Would you call it ethnocentric for Mexican companies in Mexico to require their employees speak only Spanish on company grounds, not English? Or for French companies to require French? Like it or not English is the language of government and business in the United States, even if it isn’t our “official” language, it is what is used in legal documents, court documents, contracts, etc.

      • Livvy17 February 28, 2018, 12:58 pm

        For purposes of actual work you can require it, but when employees are on their break then it becomes problematic.

        Maybe think of it this way – Imagine that your work requires you to smile continuously during work. Fine, during work you do this. However, in the lunchroom, you just want to relax your face. One of your co-workers in the lunchroom continues to smile, but reports you to management, to say that your lack of smile is directed at her, and she’s offended. (note, she doesn’t talk to you directly) Management puts out a policy that everyone must smile all the time while on company property.

        Doesn’t that still sound ridiculous? Even without the national origin problem?

        And to your question, I would find it ethnocentric for a Mexican company to insist on Spanish in the lunchroom, etc. I’d also find it presumptuous that other people insist upon being able to eavesdrop on my conversation, in the language of their choice.

      • Lolkay February 28, 2018, 5:49 pm

        Actually while English is the de facto language, the fact that government entities require interpreters being given on request AND the fact there is no true one official designated language in the the United States as a whole (individual states nonwithstanding), kind of proves that we have a right to use any language in the workplace during non-essential business matters. Like the breakroom.

        It is ethnocentric because the way it was worded earlier was very off, almost implying that all around the world should cater to English because ‘it’s a business language’ overall. That may not have been the intent, but I shared this link with many multilingual and and multicultural folk, and more than I thought saw what I was seeing initially.

        USA needs to stop trying to forcefeed monolingualism as the way to be, in my personal opinion, as other languages like Mandarin and Arabic to name a couple are quickly rising up in the global business world as it is.

        If you want someone to speak only English while doing business with you, that’s fair and all, but your multilingual competitor may have more outreach.

        But at the end of the day, its the breakroom, no right to demand only English there.

      • Lerah99 March 2, 2018, 1:22 pm

        @Kate2 – yes, I would find it ethnocentric, especially if they had a large expat population working for them.

        After getting his MBA, my cousin worked for the world’s largest concrete manufacturer in Mexico. Business was conducted in Spanish and English but there were about half a dozen different languages spoken among colleagues in the lunch room.

        From there he went to work for a bank in Switzerland. And the break rooms and lunch room would have conversations happening in English, French, German, Swiss, Italian, and Cantonese.

        These were large professional corporations that work on a global market and therefore recruit the best of the best from around the world. They wouldn’t dream of trying to enforce a “only THIS language can be spoken on site” rule.

        Because that sort of small minded rule is bad for morale and bad for business.

        • admin March 12, 2018, 9:30 am

          Perhaps. The OP noted that she worked for a “fairly large and diverse organisation”. We don’t know the entire story but I suspect there is more to this than meets the eye. Management of “large and diverse” companies do not make broad rules unless there are circumstances that necessitate those rules.

    • EchoGirl February 28, 2018, 10:43 pm

      I was saying this last week on another post; some people have a literal self-centered viewpoint, and this is an even more obvious example. They ignore all of the reasons that people might choose between themselves to speak another language and go right to the explanation that would make it about *them*.

  • AS February 26, 2018, 11:06 am

    Having been brought up in India, where people speak a huge number of languages and dialects, one of the first lessons of growing up was to never speak in a language that everyone in your group doesn’t understand. It is okay in public places, like a bus. But if you are in a break room, where everyone in the office is on a break, it is uncouth to exclude only 1 person from the group! And if you had to exclude, do no make it sound as if you are talking about the person being excluded! That is bad manners. If my mother had heard back in my school days, that I was in a group that excluded someone in a common room, I’d have gotten an earful from her in the evening.

    My husband had once been the only person in a group at his office who didn’t know Spanish too well, and he realized after catching a part of the conversation that the grant he was supposed to be on was not getting renewed by the funding agency, and he is basically out of job in 6 months! It was actually an awful realization, and very frustrating when you caught only a few words. When he asked them, it had suddenly dawned upon the group that he didn’t understand the language! (They are not mean people, and his boss tried to find other funds to keep him, though we found another job that started shortly after this job ended. But I’m just saying how not being cognizant about someone in the group not knowing the language can be).

  • Lolo February 26, 2018, 11:14 am

    I think some of it also comes down to feeling excluded. The fact of the matter is, if I don’t understand the conversation happening around me, it can feel very exclusionary. It would also make me wonder why the people can’t speak English in front of me. Are they talking about me? Talking about the weather? I don’t know. I also find it downright rude when people speak in another language right in front of you in a social/work setting.

    • Livvy17 February 28, 2018, 1:01 pm

      Agreed – from a purely etiquette standpoint, if that woman had been part of a group having lunch together, it would be rude for the group to exclude her.

      However, across the room in an employee lunchroom? Essentially, she’s complaining that she can’t eavesdrop on their conversation.

  • staceyizme February 26, 2018, 11:21 am

    This one can definitely go both ways. People have the basic right to freedom of assembly on their own time (and presumably a break in the break room at least somewhat qualifies). But- the reason that some suspect that they are being spoken about under the cover of another language (or under the cover of a quieter tone in the same language) is that it has often happened. It would be more effective, in my view, to have an anti-bullying policy that goes into attitudes and statements that are unacceptable than it probably is to try to police the speech of those whose native language is not English. It is also generally better from an etiquette perspective to take no notice of the conversations of others that are not addressed to you in any language, as parents, teachers and many other people know all too well. This doesn’t mean that it’s “okay” to gossip in any language, it’s just foolish to try too hard to police it.

  • Skaramouche February 26, 2018, 11:25 am

    I’m torn on this one. My personal experience with people speaking other languages at work has not been positive but I recognise that this has no bearing on whether or not that should be allowed. For context, I’ll add that I am a member of a visible minority and while I’m most comfortable in English, I speak several other languages with varying degrees of fluency so I could, if I chose, participate in “other language” exchanges at work. However, I generally feel uncomfortable when these exchanges happen in public areas, at people’s desks or generally in a workplace setting where others might understandably feed excluded. My negative experience has been that people will often try to goad me into speaking another language once they find out that I speak it by repeatedly engaging me in conversation in said language. To start, I used to feel pressured and would mumble something back so as not to appear rude. Over time, however, I’ve realised that they are the rude ones and I don’t engage anymore. I either smile or respond in English. In general, I’m not a fan of other languages in the workplace because they create tension and room for misinterpretations, etc.

    Having said all of this, I’m inclined to side with the OP this time. Talking about someone is certainly very rude but cannot be prevented by the company during break time and is not really a language issue. Would the situation really have been different if whispered English had been used (with all the supposed nods and gestures and glances that tipped the complainer off in the first place)? I agree that it’s a very uncomfortable feeling to think someone is talking about you in a language that you cannot understand but I really feel the problem is not with the language…it’s with the people. Punishing everyone by mandating that no other languages can be spoken in the break room is just plain silly. During break, people are on their own time and policing behaviour is difficult unless it’s something truly harmful that impacts productivity. To me, this smacks of a kindergarten quarrel where a person runs up to the teacher screaming – “Miss, they’re talking about me again!”

  • Harry's Mom February 26, 2018, 11:26 am

    I agree with Admin. Political correctness, and legal ideals aside, it is just plain rude to be so exclusionary. This is an etiquette forum, and people should try and consider what they can do to treat others with the kindness that they want to be treated with.
    My BFF has a habit of talking and texting while we walk our dogs. I finally got tired of walking with someone who obviously should have stayed home to manage her correspondence and told her she was being rude and that I’d rather walk alone as that’s what I was doing anyways. She is now more mindful of the phone. If these people wish to speak in their native language, why not take a walk and converse.

  • jessiebird February 26, 2018, 11:30 am

    I’ve spent many years in Japan and speak relatively proficient Japanese. One year was at a language school where the school required us to speak Japanese together while at school (and we were mostly native English speakers). This was really, really hard (and to our benefit to learn better Japanese). It was hard because we couldn’t express ourselves as well and deeply, which is frustrating when you know the other person speaks your own language. And eveyone had a different level of Japanese, as well as linguistic idiosyncrasies and even dialects from histories in different regions of Japan, all of which actually makes it much harder to speak to non-native Japanese speakers than to native Japanese speakers. I mention all this because of how tiring it is to speak to others in a foreign language which is also foreign to them.

    In Japan, we would never speak about anyone in English in front of them because you have no idea of their proficiency in English…if they understand, the embarrassment! (Plus, it’s just rude…95%of communication is nonverbal or something, and so don’t think people don’t get a vibe just because it’s foreign words.) On the other hand, I’ll admit we did speak my husband’s native language, the more obscure Romanian, in front of people we felt were being rude, but strangers and not colleagues. If someone was hogging a seat on the train, we’d comment to each other in Romanian, fairly confident they wouldn’t understand. I’m guilty as charged.

    So I can see both sides of this problem.

    But I’ve startled Japanese people in the US by walking up to them and offering to help in Japanese…they never expect the very Caucasian me to suddenly offer to take a photo for them in front of the statue, in Japanese.

    In this day and age, you never know who speaks what….

    However, I’ve also seen people be very paranoid about other people speaking a language they don’t understand. They will assume they are being talked about even when they aren’t. (These are often projections of people who have themselves gossiped and complained, pot calling the kettle black and all that.) I’ve seen people be very offended when a non-native speaker uses their language with errors that lead to seeming rude (usually excessive bluntness because polish takes extra skill and fluency).

    This has got to be a case-by-case situation, and hopefully the HR has the insight and sensitivity to make a fair judgment. It is very tiring to speak a foreign language all day long–I would think it is good for morale, a true break, for employees to debrief and talk to each other in their own languages. Hopefully, they aren’t using it as venting time…then it’s on them, because it’s not the language that is causing the problem actually, it’s the energy and vibes they are emanating, as Admin alluded to.

  • keloe February 26, 2018, 12:02 pm

    If someone is being talked about in a mean way, or whatever the potential problem was, forcing everyone to speak just one language is not going to solve the problem.

    If anyone specifically forbade me to speak my native language in the office, particularly on breaks, I would quit. Or I would arrange with my compatriot colleagues to have lunch outside the office, where we could speak any language we pleased and talk about whoever we wanted in any way we liked. And that talk might be less friendly, if we were unhappy about it.*

    *When I still worked in offices, I always avoid any sort of participation in office gossip and always tried to include everyone in conversation.

  • K February 26, 2018, 12:16 pm

    Disagree entirely. Is management also going to ban whispering with a colleague in the break room, just in case they’re talking about someone? Did the person who complained ever think that maybe others’ conversations are none of their business regardless of language? A person can gossip in English just as well, just more quietly.

    I’ve always had extreme eye-rolling reaction to those who believe someone is talking about them. How incredibly self-absorbed to believe that, simply because you can’t understand what someone is saying, it just MUST have about you! And even if they are – so what? I couldn’t care less. Speaking a second language is extremely tiring; being able to speak in your native language on your break can really give your brain a chance to chill. I think it’s quite easy to say it’s rude to speak a different language when it’s yours that’s predominant. Imagine being in a country where you have to work extremely hard to be understood 90% of the time, carefully constructing sentences in a way that is effortless in your native language, and then being told you must do that even on your break, *even with colleagues who speak your native language!* It’s so silly. And as OP stated – considering how many people speak Chinese, it’s hardly secretive. At my place of work, it was Spanish; I don’t speak it, but so many did that I didn’t worry about being gossiped about. I just – gasp! – did my job well and went home. If someone had an issue with me, they could take it to management – in whatever language they chose.

    • serryce February 27, 2018, 12:29 am

      I don’t think it’s self-absorbed. I think it’s a mental instability to be so paranoid that you not only wonder if the people working with you are talking about you in the same room in another language, but actually take measures to have your company enforce their behaviour in their own time!

      Otherwise, I fully agree with the rest of your comment. It’s one thing to ask people to conduct business in the lingua franca, it’s another thing to regulate the use of their native tongue in their personal time (in the office, or not).

      In fact, it feels very passive-aggressive and childish. “MOM SAYS YOU HAVE TO BE NICE TO ME! SO THERE!”

    • Kate 2 February 27, 2018, 11:58 am

      It really isn’t that self-absorbed.

      Have you seriously never walked into a room, had someone look up and gasp, then hush the group? Or hurriedly switch to another language? Have you never had a group of people whisper in front of you, look at you, giggle, whisper some more, and keep repeating the whole thing, frequently pausing to look at you and laugh?

      Because lots of us who were bullied in school (maybe you were too?) had this exact experience, and believe me we know exactly what it means. They aren’t planning a surprise party!

      • K February 28, 2018, 4:52 pm

        Yes, of course – who hasn’t? As for being bullied, yes, but people gossiping about you is not bullying. Bullying is when I was called an offensive name for a gay woman and a “baby killer” after a school debate on abortion. Once, a colleague put her hand up in my face to shut me up when I tried to speak with her rationally about something that bothered me.

        Those are REAL things that happened – the person who complained in this letter had no idea if those coworkers were speaking about her. Isn’t eavesdropping also an etiquette offense? Again: That assumption that people are talking about you is such a waste of energy, because as I said before, what difference does it make? I can’t do anything but be polite and friendly to them if I feel they dislike me; if they have a legitimate grievance with me, I also can’t do anything about that unless they or my superior informs me about it.

        The term “bullying” applies to those helpless in their situation. The person who complained was not helpless; they could have been an adult and spoke to the people, she could have let it go and simply done her job better, or if she was so utterly convinced that everyone hated her and spoke about her all the time (again, with zero evidence), she could find a new job. To be fair, it was her superior who decided to implement this nonsense “rule” that I’m certain will be overturned, and perhaps she didn’t intend for it to go that far, but I’m sure her colleagues are certainly talking about her her now!

      • NostalgicGal February 28, 2018, 10:41 pm

        I’ve learned languages depending on where I lived and what I was doing. Most of that was before 25. I am a lot older and moved to an area where about 1/4 the population are ethnically different and speak another language and I am learning theirs. I’m to where now I can laugh at the joke, ask about things or comment in context–and hit the accent most of the time too. So I can tell if you mean me… If you go fast I’m not going to catch it, yet, but. I can walk up on your group and know.

        As for the break room, it’s either ignore them or ask for a different place to take break (or a different time) if you are the minority speaker. In the break room, off the clock, anything goes. I used to work at a place where our main non English languages were Hmong and French … groups congregated together and spoke their own language on break. Our breakroom was large enough though that one could still sit without feeling like them-vs-us (or me). We did have one person that had issues and our solution was to shift their break and lunch times to match another office group (we had several groups in the company) that had less recent immigrants in their staff. They later did an internal posting to one of those other time groups and were happier.

      • EchoGirl February 28, 2018, 10:50 pm

        If there’s a sudden switch, that’s one thing. But if it’s just that they walk in, sit down, and start speaking a foreign language (or they’re already speaking it when I get there), there’s no reason to assume it’s targeted. And I *have* been bullied…trust me, they didn’t need another language (we all spoke the same two anyway) to convey what they thought!

  • Maribel February 26, 2018, 12:20 pm

    I occasionally speak another language at work. 95% of the time it’s a bit of BS as I pass the other Spanish speakers here in the office – how was your weekend, the weather, etc. The cleaning lady is a native Spanish speaker and is much more eloquent in Spanish. The other 5% it’s a more serious conversation about what might be going on (custody hearing about her granddaughters). It gives me a chance to speak the language I spoke with my parents, who are now deceased. If I see another non-Spanish speaker around and think they might be curious, offended or whatever, I try and give them a quick translation. Often people that speak only one language assume that everyone else MUST be talking about them. We’re not and if you want to know, just ask. Speaking Spanish gives me a chance to practice, I’m horribly rusty and it honors my parents.

  • JD February 26, 2018, 12:20 pm

    In my working career in offices, employees are still on the clock during breaks except for lunch, so this would not necessarily be “on their own time.” I suspect, as Admin says, the complainer got some non-verbal clues, making her/him feel talked about. I would hope no one is so paranoid as to think anyone speaking in another language must always be talking about her/him. Not having been there, though, I can’t say.

    I’d also say it’s always dangerous to talk about a person in one’s presence, when assuming that person doesn’t know any of the language. My cousin’s kids grew up in Europe and speak at least five languages each, but live here now and have always spoken their English with their parents’ native Georgia (U.S) accents. They’ve given several people some surprises, when those people have assumed the kids can’t understand the language those people are speaking.

    Kind of the other side of this — I walked into the break room to get some ice one day to find a manager and an engineer discussing a project for work. They were the only two in the break room until I came in. I knew both of them personally and knew they both were native Spanish speakers, having both learned English only after they moved to the U.S. They were two of only three native Spanish speakers in this facility staffed nearly totally with English-only speakers. What struck me was that they were speaking to each other in English. The engineer later told me that he gets so used to having to speak in English to everyone, that he speaks it to the Spanish speakers at work, too, without even thinking that they might all find it easier to speak in Spanish. (There was no company rule that they had to speak English)

  • Jane February 26, 2018, 12:46 pm

    Banning other languages just didn’t sound completely right to me, so I googled it and this is what the United States Department of Labor official site says;

    “A workplace English-only rule that is applied only at certain times may be adopted only under very limited circumstances that are justified by business necessity. 29 C.F.R. § 1606.7(b) Such a rule must be narrowly tailored to address the business necessity. Situations in which business necessity would justify an English-only rule include:
    For communications with customers, coworkers, or supervisors who only speak English
    In emergencies or other situations in which employees must speak a common language to promote safety
    For example, a rule requiring employees to speak only English in the event of an emergency and when performing their work in specific areas of the workplace that might contain flammable chemicals or other potentially dangerous equipment is narrowly tailored to safety requirements and does not violate Title VII.
    For cooperative work assignments in which the English-only rule is needed to promote efficiency
    For example, a rule requiring investigators (some of whom speak only English) to speak only English when working as a team to compile a report or prepare a case for litigation is narrowly tailored to promote business efficiency and therefore does not violate Title VII.
    To enable a supervisor who only speaks English to monitor the performance of an employee whose job duties require communication in English with coworkers or customers
    For example, a rule requiring employees to speak only English with English-speaking co-workers and customers when a supervisor is present to monitor their work performance would be narrowly tailored to promote efficiency of business operations. As long as the rule does not apply to casual conversations between employees when they are not performing job duties, it would not violate Title VII.“

    I think if it is fact taken to the union the workers would be able to overturn this new rule.

    • ErinAnn February 26, 2018, 7:59 pm

      *ding ding ding*

  • lakey February 26, 2018, 1:14 pm

    I agree with Administrator. In my experience there are real problems with backbiting in the workplace. I think it’s reasonable to think that if people are speaking a language you can’t understand that they might be saying things they don’t want you to understand. This can lead to morale problems, cliques, and even feuds. It doesn’t mean that the people speaking a language other than English ARE gossiping about a co-worker. It just means that it is natural for co-workers to wonder.

    • staceyizme February 26, 2018, 9:39 pm

      If your point were extended to an unlikely extreme, it seems to me to be akin to the idea that all emails and personal correspondence should be open and able to be viewed by anyone on the basis of possible bullying that could be concealed by the privacy of personal communication. It’s true that communications in most institutions can be monitored after the fact as needed, but most aren’t monitored live and I don’t think that conversations should be, either.

      • admin February 27, 2018, 5:17 am

        If communication occurs on equipment the business owns or networks it pays for, then no employee can have an expectation of privacy.

        • Lerah99 February 27, 2018, 10:02 am

          There is no expectation of privacy between the employee and the company.

          But that doesn’t mean I can go to my boss’s boss and demand to see his emails.
          Nor can my coworker demand that I let her see all of my emails.

          Simply because our emails are all housed by the same company doesn’t mean they are or should be transparent to any and all employees who wish to view them.

          • admin February 28, 2018, 4:25 am

            An email correspondence implies there are at least 2 people engaging in a discussion. All it takes for an allegation of backstabbing is for just one of those people to copy it, forward it or talk about it and management will be investigating. Presuming others will keep your secrets written in email is foolish.

  • Devin February 26, 2018, 2:11 pm

    I’m guessing more than one incident sparked this new policy from HR, especially if the staff is unionized. It could be that this group is cliquey in the office and they want people to engage with all of their colleagues while in the office. There may have been more than one complaint by multiple people or a customer/stakeholder May have brought it up to management as an issue. I work in a large hospital with a very diverse population. We are encourage to speak English as the primary language when we are in the presence of patients or families or leadership, which Is almost 100% of the time. Even when we are on break in the cafeteria, we are still considered brand ambassadors, and our ‘private’ conversation are representative of our company. If socializing is important to these coworkers, they are free to organize a lunch offsite or after work event.

  • Emily February 26, 2018, 5:15 pm

    I completely agree with Annie. It is incredibly taxing to speak and think in a language that’s not native to you, and a break– on your break time, in the break room!– where you can speak it for a bit makes a huge difference. Come on.

    • Emily February 26, 2018, 5:30 pm

      Apologies for the typo: I meant to say that a break where you can speak your native language for a bit makes a huge difference. I say that from experience, as a native English speaker who used to live in Italy. I stand by the “come on”.

  • Tanya February 26, 2018, 6:06 pm

    I’m sorry, I’m going to disagree with admin here. In my country there have been similar occurrences – a workplace has tried to ban languages other than English in the staff room – and it has been done purely out of racism. I do not think any company has the right to ban staff from conversations in their mother tongue during their breaks. We already give companies too much control over their staff outside of the completion of their duties. I also agree with OP that it is an etiquette faux pas to expect everyone within earshot to speak in your language all the time. That is self centred in the extreme.

  • Linda February 26, 2018, 6:32 pm

    One office I worked in (everyone spoke English) there was one woman who was sure EVERYONE was talking about her behind her back. Just about anytime she saw two or more people talking in the hallway/breakroom she was sure we were talking about her. We tried very nicely to let her know that was not the case but she would not believe us. She went to HR all the time with complaints about this and many other things. Fortunatley for us she finally left the company. In hindsight I’m sure we might have looked suspicious because it got to the point when we saw her coming we would just shut up and disband but it got really, really old.

    • NostalgicGal February 28, 2018, 10:43 pm

      This. Totally this. Some think everything is about them and there is no proving otherwise. Or continually. Once doesn’t constitute all the time (proving it to them)

  • Another Michelle February 26, 2018, 6:42 pm

    I do have to ask, if “English is the language of business” and English can be ordered to be spoken in the business, “particularly in English-speaking countries”, how non-English speaking countries’ businesses can do business. I have family in a non-English speaking country (although all have learned English and can speak fairly fluently), and they all speak their native language in their businesses. I don’t see how English is the “language of business” in a non-English speaking country.

    • admin February 26, 2018, 7:37 pm

      If you are engaging in business internationally, even Etsy, the language of international commerce is English.

    • Rattus February 27, 2018, 9:19 am

      I work at a global firm (over half a million employees world-wide). All my communications with people in my country, Germany, India, Vietnam, Romania, France, et al are done in English. Every single one of them. The same protocol applies to all global companies in my sector.

    • K February 28, 2018, 5:03 pm

      Thank you for bringing this up, as it bothers me. English may be the language if *international* business, but there are millions of businesses owned by hundreds of millions of people in this big world of ours that don’t speak a lick of English. To say “English is the language of business” is ethnocentric and assumes that the only businesses that count are huge conglomerates with international ties. Meanwhile, if every non-English-speaking business in the world shut down tomorrow, those large business would fail too. There are large, successful companies that aren’t international and quite happy centering their business locally. Also, let’s not forget that English is common because of Great Britain invading countries and forcing them to speak English and turn their backs on their culture, so I don’t consider English being a common language to be something to brag about.

      What’s interesting is that I work in NYC – the center of American finance – for many wealthy business families. Know what language they want their children learning? Mandarin.

      • admin March 12, 2018, 9:38 am

        Actually I was thinking of the small Etsy businesses that are operated by a sole proprietor who is probably not a native English speaker but if you want to do business with English speaking countries, you need to learn English.

    • NostalgicGal February 28, 2018, 10:50 pm

      If you fly, all towers work in English or the native country’s language. You the pilot can request the native country language if you are fluent in it. Else all air traffic is done in English.

      Years back in engineering we were taught that almost all Engineering related was done in English, and a small cluster worked in German. And you better be fluent in metric system as well.

      I am on some international forums and moderate on one. It’s enforced that posts must be in English, on the one I moderate, if someone doesn’t stick to that, more than a few words in context otherwise sparingly, they will be ‘kicked’. First kick is 10 minutes. Second is an hour. Third is 24, and after that it gets posted to the moderator’s forum to decide further punishment. Oh, and we considered the older form of ‘texting shorthand’ were stuff isn’t spelled out, to be not using English. If you’re too lazy to type and spell and especially if you whine and complain about being asked to do so, bamphf. History.

  • pyes February 26, 2018, 6:43 pm

    I work for a very large, international company. Our official company language is English. I currently work with people who’s primary language is Dutch. When we are in meetings, everyone uses English. If they are chatting as they walk down the hall or are discussing something one on one, it’s Dutch. And even in meetings, they sometimes revert to Dutch to discuss a intricate matter (sometimes it is hard for them to come up with the specific English word) and then translate to English for me.

    A few years ago I managed a team who all spoke Hindi except for me. I can’t image telling them they couldn’t use their own language when talking amongst themselves.

    I would find it absurd for the company to state that English is the only language for the break room. They need that mental break of not always having to translate if they are not natural English speakers. I would have thought that instead the company would have tried to figure out if there is an employee issue. Not just ban a natural occurrence of reverting back to your traditional language.

    • AS February 27, 2018, 12:03 am

      I can’t speak about he Dutch, but most Hindi speakers are natural English speakers too. In fact, for a lot of Indians, Hindi might not even be their mother tongues, but rather be their second or third language (with English scoring higher). And there are Indians who feel excluded when other Indians start speaking in Hindi. So, if someone feels isolated during social time in an office because their colleagues are forming clans, the management should step up. it probably didn’t bother you, but I’ve been with groups where it gets excruciatingly tedious. If they want to talk in a language that isolates others, they can do it during non-office hours, or when there is no one in the group who does not understand the language.

  • Krista February 26, 2018, 11:26 pm

    This reminds me a bit of my parents. They would speak German when they didn’t want us kids to understand, but what they didn’t realize was that we understood more than we let on. Recently, we had a large group of friends and relatives over for a board game night and my parents were playing as partners. They started strategizing in German, but they came to realize that my sister and I were totally following them and using it against them. They then gradually switched to a more and more extreme version of their fairly obscure Swiss German dialect, which can be almost incomprehensible even to native German speakers, but since we grew up with them speaking this particular dialect, we could still mostly follow what they were saying, even though someone from Germany or another part of Switzerland might find it difficult.

    We all had a good laugh about it afterwards, but I guess the point is that you can never be certain who will understand you and who can’t. The problem here isn’t really that they were speaking another language in the break room, but whether or not they were making fun of someone. Impossible to say as I wasn’t there, but even if they were, that’s a whole other issue really and likely won’t be solved by enforcing an English only policy.

  • AS February 26, 2018, 11:56 pm

    Adding to my previous comment, OP, it is NOT racist to impose a common language in an office premises, during office hours, so as not to exclude anyone, even if the common language is English.

    • Tanya February 27, 2018, 5:14 pm

      I’m sorry, but I really cannot see how it is not racist. To put it another way: I cannot see even a remotely valid reason to demand all employees only speak one specified language even while on their own time (their breaks). I wonder if some of the disconnect is coming from different ways that countries see employee rights and the way employees are treated. I would not be surprised if it turned out that all those who see the demand for one language only came from one part of the world.

  • Elle February 27, 2018, 12:15 am

    I worked in an office where the primary language was English for doing business. When I originally interviews for the position, one of the interviewers asked me if I had a second language other than English. I didn’t and the look I think I had was one of “I didn’t know I needed second language for this job.” Luckily the manager said it didn’t apply to the position and I got the job. In my training class there was one lady who spoke three languages, one Japanese, the other was Mandarin the final was English and two people who I trained with each spoke one of the languages. She made a point of trying to converse with each in their own language and ignoring me. The manager told her while on the floor everyone spoke English, but during break in the lunch room one could converse in their own language. I found that when I was talking to someone in English, she would slowly immerse herself into the conversation and it usually reverted to Mandarin, the Japanese speaking person refused to engage with her in his language as he told me he thought she was being rude. It got to the point where she had everyone who spoke Mandarin conversing in the language out on the floor and those who didn’t were left out. Our Manager finally had to tell everyone that English was spoken while working on the floor and your own language during break. I don’t see it as being racism on her part, it was starting to divide everyone and she wanted everyone to be included in conversations especially when it related to business maters.

    • NostalgicGal February 28, 2018, 11:21 pm

      Let me get this straight, the woman that spoke three languages would try to engage everyone that didn’t speak English in the other two… and the majority of other language spoken was Mandarin and she got everyone speaking Mandarin because she would prefer to engage in other than English?

      In that case, yes the manager would have to make it clear about English if that was the language to be spoken AND should have had some words with the woman to enlighten her that though she may seem more comfortable in Mandarin it needs to be English during work. Maybe she didn’t realize she was making everything drift. And if she was on purpose that was rude and counter productive…

  • MrsLangdonAlger February 27, 2018, 7:20 am

    Wow. Lotta “just speak English!” bigotry here on ehell. This is extremely disappointing. Think I’ll add this to my list of “don’t read the comments” sites.

    • admin February 27, 2018, 8:46 am

      No, it’s about speaking the predominant/de facto or official language of the country in which your job resides while you are on company time and property. If I lived in Laos and spoke Lao and English proficiently, there is a strong expectation by my boss and co-workers that I will conduct business in Lao and if asked to not speak English while on break in the company break room because it concerns management and co-workers, I will speak Lao because it is unkind and rude not to. And I certainly wouldn’t get my knickers in a twist claiming to be racially harassed.

    • AS February 27, 2018, 10:41 am

      No, it is not “just speak English”, but “just speak the language that everyone understands”, which in this case is English! It is simply bad manners to isolate someone in a group.
      (And I speak 5 different languages quite well; so this is not from someone who doesn’t know any other language).

      • NostalgicGal February 28, 2018, 11:27 pm

        I use other languages and don’t consider this an English Only or else thread. It’s not using the predominant language if it’s not YOUR predominant language. If I go to Quebec, in Canada, I expect things are going to be predominantly French and have to conduct things in that language. Here in the US, if I go into the little Cantina streaming certain music and such, yes, I might be able to buy a cold drink and be able to complete my business in English, but. I use Spanish, because that’s what they’re going to be using there–and even if I’m not Hispanic and my accent isn’t perfect I will expect to have to do things with Spanish. If I go to Mexico, it’ll be Spanish expected. English will be a luxury.

  • Wild Irish Rose February 27, 2018, 9:37 am

    All I can see here is that someone was offended by others conducting a conversation on their OWN TIME in their native language, and assumed that these people were talking about him/her. Have we really become so overly sensitive that we demand people conform to what we think is right in every single situation? Why did this person think his or her Chinese co-workers were talking about him/her? Were they pointing and laughing? I just don’t get it. Certainly conducting business in the predominant language is the right thing to do, but on your own time why should you be restricted to that language? I don’t care if it’s on company property or not; if you’re not on the clock and you’re not doing anything to hurt anyone, then speak whatever language you want to. Banning smoking and banning foreign languages are NOT the same thing!

    • admin February 28, 2018, 4:34 am

      It is not on the employee’s own time. The OP specifically referred to the situation occurring in the “break room”. According to https://www.dol.gov/general/topic/workhours/breaks: “Federal law does not require lunch or coffee breaks. However, when employers do offer short breaks (usually lasting about 5 to 20 minutes), federal law considers the breaks as compensable work hours that would be included in the sum of hours worked during the work week and considered in determining if overtime was worked.”

      If you are on break, you are on the company time and being paid through that break. And it should be noted that under US law, employers are not required to give breaks at all. Management could conclude that the break room is being abused for petty spites ,close it entirely and not be in violation of any law by doing so.

      • Wild Irish Rose February 28, 2018, 10:01 am

        I did use the phrase “off the clock.” Of course, I don’t know that the Chinese employees were off the clock, but if you’re off the clock, you are NOT being paid and the time IS your own. As secretary to attorneys who practice labor and employment law, I’m aware of our state’s laws with regard to breaks, etc.

        The only thing I can see here, really, is that the offended employee probably has no reason to be offended. Management hired people because they speak Language X for purposes of translation and interpretation. No one should be surprised or offended that they choose to speak the language with which they are most comfortable while on a break. My opinion is that the offended employee needs to grow up and stop assuming people are talking about him just because he doesn’t understand the language they are speaking.

        I am actually going to ask one of my attorneys about this.

        • Wild Irish Rose February 28, 2018, 11:15 am

          And here is his response:

          An English only rule needs to be justified by business necessity. According to the EEOC, it would be very rare for an English only rule to be appropriate when someone on a meal or rest break.

  • Dee February 27, 2018, 11:58 am

    Admin – My people came to Canada under the guarantee that they never had to learn English and their descendants would never have to learn it. There were other concessions, too, just for this group. Many of these same people left Canada for other countries when the laws changed, and many stayed behind and allowed the government to force their children into English schools. But the reason my people are here is because they were invited to come AND they were allowed – encouraged, even – to keep their own languages, solely. No English.

  • ladyv21454 February 27, 2018, 5:46 pm

    I wouldn’t be so sure that there is “more to this story”. There are plenty of people out there who get paranoid – for no reason – when other people are speaking a language other than English. Example: I formerly went to a nail salon where most of the technicians were of Vietnamese origin, and often spoke to each other in Vietnamese. I was present one afternoon when a customer threw a hissy fit because she was ABSOLUTELY SURE that the techs were making fun of her – which was not at all the case. She ended up flouncing out, vowing never to return – which, frankly, was a relief! So it’s very possible that there is no history between the offended co-worker and the people speaking Chinese – she could just be easily offended!

  • Peppergirl February 27, 2018, 7:54 pm

    I guess I’m an unusual case because, even if I thought someone was talking about me, I’d just roll my eyes and go on. It just seems silly. YMMV.

  • Rebecca February 27, 2018, 11:35 pm

    My general feeling is that if a few people in the lunchroom want to speak another language amongst themselves, let them. Depends on the general office lunchroom culture I guess. If normally everyone sits down to eat together, then it’s rude to suddenly break out into a language not everyone can understand. I’ve worked in places where everyone has lunch at the same time and has a conversation, like family.

    But if it’s the sort of place where everyone does their own thing, and chats if they want to, or sits off to the side to read a book, and people coming and going at different times, then really, I feel I have no more right to be privvy to the conversations of coworkers in the lunchroom than I do to read over the shoulder of another coworker who is reading a book, or demand that they read parts of the book out loud.

  • Rinme February 28, 2018, 3:45 am

    I grew up in a melting pot country which has immigrants from all over the world, and I’m an immigrant myself.

    I’m absolutely convinced that it’s rude to speak your “private” language next to friends and coworkers who do not speak it.

    I’ve been on both sides of the equation, and it’s totally uncomfortable.

    Also, I hate to burst that bubble, but quite often people do use their “private” language to talk about someone right next to them. It’s disgusting, but happens a lot.

  • Annie March 1, 2018, 11:06 am

    I live in a province where French is the only official language. Every morning, I cross over the river to another province to Canada’s capital for work, where English is the only official language. I have to switch my brain over to English. Thousands of people do the same every day and vice versa. Even if there is two official languages in Canada, it doesn’t mean that every business has to conduct their activities in both languages. However, it does mean than a majority of people in Ottawa don’t take offence in other people speaking ANY other language.

    I don’t owe anybody a conversation in English if I’m on a break. If it is a meeting or a conversation where one person doesn’t speak French, I’ll switch to English. In any other case, using my native language is not rude. I am proud of my heritage. My other French colleagues are also proud of their heritage. Why should we talk in broken English to each other in case another person wants to barge on the conversation? Because we are a 15 minute drive away from my province? THAT is the breach of Etiquette.

    Being in that situation, I feel that most Canadians are more aware of language sensitivity than Americans. We also have federal laws (as you do) in place to protect anyone may they speak French, English or any other language and measure that makes sure that those laws are respected. We don’t take language so personal.

    I actually take offence in what admin said: If you’re not happy, you can leave and get another job. Actually, I went to grad school to be in my field of work. If I wasn’t happy with the language requirement with my employer, which is the case, I would try to make things change, per my federal rights. We unionized recently and are in the process of making our workspace truly bilingual.

    This is not an etiquette question. This is a question of rights.

  • staceyizme March 1, 2018, 9:51 pm

    The commentary is tiresome. If you want to know what people are saying, learn the language. Personal communication during break time is not subject to the imperative of “English only” (or French only/ Arabic only, Japanese only elsewhere). The issue is one of personal preference and the context appears to center on the question of whether or not an individual needs to be prepared to cede his or her personal linguistic preference when not on company time. The answer, unequivocally, has to be “no”. Any other answer may account for corporate interests or the potential interests of possibly offended parties but does not account for common sense, common decency or a reasonable degree of separation between one’s preferences and one’s rights. Frankly, you DON”T have the right to compel the speech of others to occur in a certain language if you are not doing so for business reasons and during the time that business activities are designated to occur. I mention this as someone who has been addressed by persons who do not know that I speak their language and whose comments were, at times, less than respectful. Nevertheless, it’s simply unhealthy, unjust and overly self-centered to presuppose that one can commandeer the language or speech of others when it is not truly essential.

  • bopper May 1, 2018, 4:14 pm

    Back when we used to have affirmative action type meetings at work, I specfically remember this kind of scenario we saw in a video..people in the break room speaking Spanish and laughing and the an English speaking person convinced it was about them….what they showed to do is for the Spanish speaking people to realize there were others around and say “Hey…we were just talking about that new TV show..did you see it?” or whatever to let others not feel excluded.

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