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A recent case settlement in Florida involving the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) shows that it may be a good idea to have some of your policies translated into the language that your employees understand.
The EEOC represented several employees who claimed that they were the victims of sexual harassment. Their employer asserted that it had a published sexual harassment policy. The employer's policy, however, was in English, and the employees weren't fluent in English but instead spoke Creole and Spanish. To settle the case, the EEOC required that the employer post notices in English, Creole, and Spanish.
The case was resolved with a settlement that was approved by a federal judge in south Florida. As a part of the settlement, the company and the EEOC entered into a consent decree requiring the employer to conduct harassment training for all of its supervisors.
According to Michael Farrell, supervisory trial attorney for the EEOC's Miami office, had the case not settled, the commission might have argued that the employees weren't on notice of the company's policy because they didn't understand the policy. If successful, that argument could prevent an employer from invoking its harassment policy as an affirmative defense. EEOC and Elianne Francis et al. v. Six L's Packing Company Inc., Case Number 03-CV-570-FTM-29DNF (S.D. FL., 2005).
If you have employees who aren't fluent in English, it may be wise to have certain policies translated into their language so they're "on notice" of your policies. For example, if you have a significant number of Spanish-speaking employees, you may want to have your family and medical leave, sexual harassment, work rules, and discipline and complaint procedures translated into Spanish and made available to those employees. Why not have your policies translated into a language that your employees can understand and thereby remove this potential argument by a lawyer representing a current or former employee?
As a second step, when you hold training programs, consider hiring an interpreter for employees who aren't fluent in English. And always have your employees sign an acknowledgement that they have received, have read, and understand your policies.
Copyright © 2005 M. Lee Smith Publishers LLC. This article is an excerpt from FLORIDA EMPLOYMENT LAW LETTER. Florida Employment Law Letter does not attempt to offer solutions to individual problems but rather to provide information about current developments in Florida employment law. Questions about individual problems should be addressed to the employment law attorney of your choice. The Florida Bar does designate attorneys as specialists in labor and employment law.