Two Whole Foods Market employees claim that speaking Spanish to each other in the workplace landed them in hot water with their supervisors. Both workers say they were placed on suspension when they took issue with a company policy allegedly banning non-English language during work hours.
Bryan Baldizan and a female co-worker, both employed at an Albuquerque Whole Foods Market location, claim that during a store meeting between staff and management last month they were told it was against company rules to speak Spanish while on the job. Both insist they were forced to take a one-day paid suspension after composing a letter expressing their dismay regarding the alleged policy.
“I couldn’t believe it,” explained Baldizan. “All we did was say we didn’t believe the policy was fair. We only talk Spanish to each other about personal stuff, not work.”
However, according to representatives from Whole Foods, the suspension was issued in response to behavioral misconduct on the part of the two employees.
“We recently had an incident where two team members became upset when they believed they were told in a team meeting they could not speak Spanish at work,” said Whole Foods spokesperson Hilary Maler. “They misunderstood.”
“Due to their rude and disrespectful behavior both in an office and in the store in front of customers, they were suspended with pay,” she continued. “Their suspension was due to their behavior alone.”
According to Maler, Whole Foods does not prohibit the use of Spanish and other foreign languages among its employees. She also claims that nearly 20 workers were present during the meeting and each confirmed that although a language policy was discussed, they were never instructed against speaking Spanish in the workplace.
“Our policy is that the default language is English, for consistent communication, especially for safety and emergency situations,” she explained. “It also prevents team members and customers from feeling excluded from conversations happening around them in the workplace.”
Ben Friedland, Executive Marketing Coordinator for the Whole Foods Market Rocky Mountain Region, insists that encouraging a “uniform form of communication” helps ensure a safer working environment:
“Therefore, our policy states that all English speaking Team Members must speak English to customers and other Team Members while on the clock. Team Members are free to speak any language they would like during their breaks, meal periods and before and after work.”
According to Friedland, Whole Foods employees are not prohibited from speaking Spanish to non-English speaking customers. Under the language policy, workers are also able to speak Spanish freely among themselves when all “parties present agree that a different language is their preferred form of communication.”
Do you agree with the Whole Foods policy regarding Spanish and other foreign languages in the workplace environment?
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