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Russian Woman Forced to Speak English at Work

A Russian woman who was told to speak English at work has been unsuccessful in claiming discrimination.

She took her claim of discrimination and harassment on the grounds of race or national origin to the Employment Appeal Tribunal. The Tribunal found there to be no evidence of harassment and concluded what happened to her was neither direct discrimination nor harassment.

Aston Villa Football Club’s manager Remi Garde banned his players from speaking French on the training ground this season in an attempt to get the team playing well together. In trying to save the team from relegation from the English Premier League, very few people questioned this technique of banning a foreign language at work.

Banning the use of a foreign language at work can, however, be classed as direct discrimination or harassment. This Russian-born lady was forbidden from speaking her native tongue at work, so why did the Employment Appeal Tribunal rule against her in this case?

The woman in question didn’t work in a customer facing role where she was required to speak English to members of the public as you might expect would be the case when an employer insists workers must speak English. She worked in a laboratory where animal testing took place.

The problem was that in leaving her work station to speak on her phone (in Russian) she raised suspicion that she might be an infiltrator for an animal rights group. The employer’s policy for employees was that they had to speak in a language managers could understand for security reasons.

By continuing to have personal phone calls in Russian, the employee was in violation of her work’s language policy because her managers were English-speaking and could not understand Russian. As the policy of only speaking English at work was applied because her place of work had security concerns, rather than because of her race or national origin, it was found that she was not victim to any form of discrimination at work.

Slater and Gordon employment lawyer Sarah Evans commented, saying: “This is a fairly unusual case. At first sight it looks like discrimination. However, as always, the case turns on its facts and strength of evidence. Because the employer could establish a reason for the treatment which was not related to nationality, the claim had to fail.”

“Discrimination cases are always complicated and sometimes difficult to predict in terms of outcome. Although this case does not make new law, it shows the importance of evidence.”

If you have workplace discrimination case call the work discrimination lawyers at Slater and Gordon on freephone 0800 916 9060 or contact us online.

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