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  1. #1

    Default Language Issues at Work

    Hi all,
    I am british, and can only speak english.
    For the past 3 years i have worked in a team of 3 including myself and 2 polish women who can speak english fluently. During which time the ammount of english spoken has reduced to nil.
    Being uncomfortable excluded form the team i asked them if they could only speak english. They were uncomfortable with this, accused me of being racist, and proceided to try to make my working life as uncomfortable as possable and turned the wider team against me. To the extent that i got HR got involved. This exacerbated the situation and there where several incidents as a result, where i was accused of god knows what to my manager. I took audio recordings of some of the taunting but i was informed i would get fired if i showed them to my manager. My manager has threatened to undergo disaplinary action should the conflict continue.
    I am on a final written warning for a previous incident where i got angy. These women are aware of this and try to anger me so i get fired. They are manipulative and im confident they will accuse me of being aggrressive (whether i am or not) and a racist should disaplinary action continue.
    What advice can you give me. Do i have the right to demand they speak english in the first place? How can i prove that im not racist or aggressive when its one word against anouther?

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jun 2006
    Location
    Massachusetts
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    24,488

    Default Re: Language Issues at Work

    I'm not being obstructionist here; I'm going somewhere specific with this.

    Is the lack of English being spoken, affecting your ability to do your job?

    Are we talking about English being spoken in the way of doing business, or on break, at lunch, etc.? (This is a VERY important point.)

    What, if any, action did HR take when you reported the situation?

    Have you notified them that the situation has escalated?

    Were the accusations made against you accurate? (Be honest - it matters. I'm not asking if your anger was justified; I understand that; we'll take it for granted that it was. So no need to be defensive about it - I need the information to give you an accurate assessment of your legal recourse)

  3. #3

    Default Re: Language Issues at Work

    Thanks for your reply. Ill try to answor the questions in order.
    Truthfully, primaraly i find the lack of english disrespectfull. However i did argure that it was affecting the ability of the team to work together which is true. They countered that argument by claiming that i do many things which so work against the team; not doing my fair share etc.
    I have never shared my breaks and lunches with them. The polish is spoken all the time with all maters.
    When i reported the situation the first time. HR said 3 things to all of us:
    1. No more deals to be made. On the basis that one of them told me that they would not speak polish if i dont speak about anything other than work.
    2. for everyone to be open with eachother. On the basis that they beleved that the quleck (of the 2 polish women) was not productive.
    3. They could not demand that they speek polish but as a matter of respect they should.

    The situation escalated when i asked them to speak english after this meating after they continued to speak polish.
    My manager notified HR that the situation ecsalated and they recomended that he undergo disaplinary action if there are any more incidents of any sort.

    When i was disaplined before i did become angey. This was with an incident not directly concerning these women. But have also become angey in recent meatings between my manager and these women because of the way that they lie and distort information to suit there end. For exampe claiming that i was rude and aggressive when i asked them. My ecact words were "please girls quit with the polish, its doing my F**king head in" but my tone was slow and resigned not sharp and aggressive. Although i have not become angy with them on a one to one basis although they have made every effort to try.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Mar 2008
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    1,995

    Default Re: Language Issues at Work

    Does the company have an English only policy at work?? If there is, then you may have a point.

    And I suppose if they have to communicate with you on some work related issues, they do it in English, correct?? Now, I assume they speak among themselves in Polish on certain things like, "what did you do this weekend"??

    I worked in a US multinational, with operations in nearly 100 countires, had gone to overseas offices, so I saw these issues first hand. USA English speaking employees had been sent to overseas offices where other languages are spoken, and even when some of these US employees speak the local language, they speak among themselves in English, since they are more comfortable with it as it is their first language.

    When a US employee meets another US employee on a Monday morning, I don't see a requirement that they speak the local language on what they did this past weekend. Many locals hired there speaks English, but spoke among themselves in their own language.

    I once spent a few years learning Chinese Mandarin at college, but really had no chance speaking it. I was teamed up with someone from Taiwan, who spoke good Mandarin and Japanese, but spoke English with a bad accent. Management told me later I was teamed up with this guy because often they have no idea what he was talking about, so I can be useful to the general team speaking in English.

    Unbeknownst to me though, I asked if he can speak to me in Mandarin since I needed improvement on it, so most if not all of our conversation was in Mandarin. However, it bothered several nearby people that we were constantly not speaking in English, that there were complaints filed.

    We had some meetings on the issue, and the points were:

    - There is no "English only" policy in our place, so if he and I discussed our work in English or Mandarin, it's perfectly OK.

    - Communications with the other "bothered" parties on work related issues were in English, so there is NO barrier to work being done.

    - In that company, various groups of people go to lunch together, not necessarily with your own team members. I occasionally go to lunch with this Taiwan colleague, but more often with others. There is NO requirement that team members have lunch together.

    - My colleague does speak English, with an accent, but often the people he calls (other branches and factories) phones me back to ask what he was saying, so I ask him in Mandarin. There is no point having him explain it again in English, though I understand his accent better than people in the "deep South" here in the USA.

    At the point in time, we did not have a "third" English speaking only member of the group, but if there were, I do not see this colleague and myself switching over to English. If we need to tell this other person something, we can always do it in English.

    Heres the way I see it. You may feel it is selfish and disrectful of these Polish colleagues to speak Polish. However, they also feel that you are selfish and disrespectful that you insist that they speak YOUR language among themselves.

  5. #5

    Default Re: Language Issues at Work

    Thanks very much for your story. It good to see things form anouther side. As i understand it the plocy is this (but i will clarify it on monday): We are an english speaking workplace however work related issues (eg technical issues) may be discussed for clarety between polish workers. And there is no issue with polish speaking when there are no others around.
    The problem is that these women beleve that the "technical work related issues" Relate to everthing. They only speak english when there is something there is an issue they want to raise with me. This is rare now as im pritty much excluded from the team.
    Your last point is very poinient as that is exactly what they have claimed. However i feel that if im doing something that they find rude i would appreaciate it if they addressed me about it. If issues arnt adressed it results in resentment and qulichs formed. This was something that HR tryed to address with point 2 that i mentioned earlyer.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Mar 2008
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    1,995

    Default Re: Language Issues at Work

    Quote Quoting Slipstream24
    View Post
    Your last point is very poinient as that is exactly what they have claimed. However i feel that if im doing something that they find rude i would appreaciate it if they addressed me about it. If issues arnt adressed it results in resentment and qulichs formed. This was something that HR tryed to address with point 2 that i mentioned earlyer.

    Having worked, and grew up in environments where these conflicts occur, let me add a few thoughts.

    You mentioned you are British, but here in the USA, tolerance or the lack thereof of non-English speakers had changed through the years. When I was growing up, though my dad (arrived in the USA in 1932) went to school in the USA after arriving here at eight years of age, and if he spoke to me in Chinese outside of the home, on a few occasions, he's been called out on it.

    He came up to my classroom one day, in the 1st grade, and yelled at me to hurry up, not in English, and the teacher told him "how do you expect your child to learn English if you don't speak to him in English at home"??

    He did it in the belief that speaking it is the only way to learn it, and today, people are amazed that I was not born in China, and yet speak the language with clarity and no accent. My dad is vindicated.

    Also, if people heard Chinese spoken on the street in my neighborhood years ago (the 1950's), and I live in an American area, adults would give you dirty looks, and children would make "slanty eyes". I have not seen "slanty eyes" made for many years till I vacationed up in the New Hampshire area a few years ago where apparently they don't encounter many minorities.

    I told this story to an American friend who told me that when he and his wife visited Japan, a group of children made fun of them making "round eyes".

    Conversely, in the 1930's, my dad and another eight year old, a classmate, agreed to speak to one another in English soon after he arrived. They were walking down Chinatown one day speaking it, and grownups stopped them on a few occasions, and admonished them that Chinese people should speak Chinese to one another.

    Did they forget they were Chinese??

    Now, coming to the year 2010, I have not encountered any American admonishing me not speaking English, nor the other way around, with Chinese people. The incidents I referred to at work occured in the mid 1970's, and one of the women co-workers who complained would look at me several times a week and say "this is America, and we ALL speak English here".

    From what I can gather, it's not an issue of whether it is clarity with my colleague on work, it is the issue that she does not want to hear a foreign language spoken, PERIOD.

    Also, when I mention to my American friends that I had my children take up Chinese, many of them sound encouraging, and was aghasted to hear that I do not speak Chinese to them at home. They said "if you can speak it, why don't you do more to help your kids learn it"!!!

    Wow, what a 180 degree change in 30 years.

    So, it seem to me the pendulem had moved considerably over the years here in the USA, the other way, and complaining about non-English speakers at work would put you on the wrong side, IMHO.

    In fact, if the company took action, against the Polish women, they can expect to be hit with discrimination suits. They gain nothing taking your side, except to be seen as abetting bigotry.

    I'm not taking sides, I lived though it.

  7. #7

    Default Re: Language Issues at Work

    Again thank you for your story. Its true that i am indeed a stranger issues of an international nature. And i wright to get clarety on these issues and im pleased that you seek to provide me with that.
    I said that i would try to clarify my companys polocy on this, it is as follows: We cannot out of law demand that english is spoken. However out of consideration for others you must try to speak english as much as possible.
    I asked my manager a coulple of clarifying issues on this:
    Q1. Would not speaking english as much as possible in any way contravein respect.
    A1. No
    Q2. Would me asking for no polish to be spoken in any way contravien respect.
    A2. No
    A non policy policy.
    But it appears from this that neither me of the polish speaking women have any cause for greavence purely from a language point of veiw. However this is what started the conflict. My concerns are not now based apon langage. They are tauning, exclusion from the team and slander should the issue be brought to HR.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Jan 2006
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    38,867

    Default Re: Language Issues at Work

    I might have missed it but due to your statement of you being British and it involves 2 Polish women, it is not clear if this is in the U.S.

    Is it?

  9. #9

    Default Re: Language Issues at Work

    No uk. :::::::::::::::::::::::::::

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Jun 2006
    Location
    Massachusetts
    Posts
    24,488

    Default Re: Language Issues at Work

    This is a US law site, and employment law in the US and the UK is very different.

    In the US, the employer would be walking on very shaky ground to demand that the other women speak English only, except when actually conducting business, which is why I wanted to know if your ability to do your job was being affected. "Not working as a team" is not sufficient to wipe out the US laws against discrimination on the basis of national origin. So in the US, I suspect you'd be more or less out of luck.

    However, as I said, US and UK law is NOT the same and we don't have any experts on UK law here. You might want to try www.personneltoday.com and see if they can be of any assistance.

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