Whole Foods Says No Espanol En El Trabajo

Last month, a Whole Foods in Albuquerque, New Mexico suspended two of their employees after they complained about being told they couldn’t speak Spanish to each other while on the job.  In an interview with the Associated Press, Bryan Baldizan said he and a woman employee decided to write a letter to their manager who told them according to company policy, they were not allowed to speak Spanish during working hours.  Unfortunately, they received a one day suspension, instead of having their issue addressed.

“I couldn’t believe it,” said Baldizan, who works in the store’s food preparation department. “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.”

When contacted about their policy, the higher ups at Whole Foods didn’t seem to be on the same page.

Libba Letton, a spokesperson for Whole Foods, said after an investigation it was determined that it was a misunderstanding and they were not told they couldn’t speak Spanish.  But the employees were suspended with pay for their rude and disrespectful behavior at work.  

But on the other hand, Ben Friedland, Whole Foods Market Rocky Mountain Region Executive Marketing Coordinator, said having a one-language work environment ensures safety, “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.” He also went on to say that the policy doesn’t forbid  employees from speaking to customers who don’t speak English, “parties present agree that a different language is their preferred form of communication.”

In a previous life, I worked as an Human Resources Manager for one of the largest flooring manufacturers in the U.S. On several occasions I had to travel to the corporate office located in Georgia for various training sessions and team building activities. One time in particular, I was assigned to conduct diversity training for the manufacturing division and warehouse employees because there were issues between the Spanish speaking employees and the non-Spanish speaking employees.  This company in particular did not have a language policy that said “English Only”, but plenty of the non-Spanish speaking employees felt there needed to be one. Their biggest complaint was that they thought it was rude, and by rude, a lot of them assumed the Spanish speaking employees were talking behind their backs. In the end, a policy was never written enforcing an English only working environment, but there were strides made by implementing ESL classes, as well as Spanish lessons for those who wanted to learn the language.

With the Whole Foods issue, and the complaint coming out of  Albuquerque, New Mexico, which has the largest Spanish speaking population in the U.S, Whole Foods may want to re-evaluate their policy.  This policy just doesn’t affect people who speak Spanish in their New Mexico store, but other employees who are multilingual elsewhere.  Whole Foods needs to realize in today’s society, English is a second language for many people and having employees that are multilingual could benefit their bottom line.

What do you think about Whole Food’s language policy?

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  • I can understand where the company is coming from, I worked in a company where t a large majority of the team members where foreign speaking students. They all came from the same country and all spoke the same language.
    They spoke English with very thick accents, (So it was hard ienough to understand them sometimes) they spoke their own language, between themselves literally during office hours, and all hours. You can imagine what it was like being in room full of Asian people who were your colleagues and not understanding a word they are saying they could be gossiping about you to your face you wouldn’t have a clue, (it did not help with team atmosphere)
    It also made it hard for the team leader to exercise her authority, it was like there was a second authority in the room which was one of their friends. I’m all for being able to speak your own language in the workplace, maybe during your lunch hour but sometimes people do take advantage. But I’m sure there’s more to the story than these two are letting on

    • Me27

      “You can imagine what it was like being in room full of Asian people who were your colleagues and not understanding a word they are saying…”

      Whatever it is you felt, I’m sure they feel the same way when they are in a room full of English speaking people. If they were gossiping, it would be no different than when English speaking people gossip about each other. It seems like you are more bothered by the fact that you couldn’t understand what they were saying.

    • No I’m not, I’m foreign born myself and I speak a second language. but if you’re at work? its a work environment and you’re told to speak English, you treat it as such.

      So I was very bothered by the fact that my colleagues used their language as a tool in a workplace to divide,disaffect and manipulate office politics in their own way, so it affected my work environment. If they followed the rules and only used their language among themselves during lunch,I couldn’t care less.

  • victoria

    There is no official language in the USA at the federal level. But this company has a one language work environment so how can the workers complain when they are breaking policy? Personally, I think personal conversations should not take place in front of customers and English should be spoken. Professionalism

  • Sheena

    Sorry, but I’m on Whole Food’s side with this one. If you took the job knowing how to speak and understand english, then speak english while on the clock. If you must discuss a private issue with someone, pull that person aside and talk with them privately like the rest of us. It is automatically assumed by many people that if you start speaking a different language in front of those that don’t understand it, you’re talking about them, saying something in poor taste (like racist, sexist, or some type of biased comments), or plotting something. So that there is clarity, and because this is not a spanish speaking establishment, an english only policy while ON THE CLOCK is reasonable. It is no different that a person who speaks extreme, unintelligible slang at work. Its unprofessional because customers, coworkers, and your supervisor cannot understand you. No clarity and your staff could be undermining you to your face and you wouldn’t know it.

    I live in an area with a booming Latino population. One of my friends is Puerto Rican and she is very light and has blonde hair and grey eyes. She looks white. We were shopping one day and while in line she turned around and started cussing two Latino men behind us out in the middle of their conversation. She overheard them making vulgar comments (racist and sexist comments about what they would do sexually with a white and a black girl) about us and I wouldn’t have know had I been by myself. After reading this article I thought about how many people are sexually harrassed at work because they don’t know the language the perpetrators are speaking. How many racist and derogatory comments may be made right in front of peoples faces and they don’t even know what’s going on. Total disrespect. It doesn’t help build team morale or cohesiveness among workers. Workers may undercut authority every chance they get.

    As of right now, the official language in America is english. If you work in an establishment that requires you to speak english on duty, then suck it up and speak english. Use your native tounge for breaks and down time.

    • Mademoiselle

      What’s the difference if someone says something derogatory to your face and if that same person thinks it, waits until s/he’s at a bar, and says it to his/her buddies about you? I agree that business should be conducted in English and that people should be cognizant and respectful of the impression they’re making when they hold personal conversations in any language in front of customers/business partners/etc, but if the only reason anyone wants to regulate other people’s language is to control whether people are talking about you, it’s a losing battle. If my old manager knew how many times I called him an ass in English while at work (because that’s how I feel about him), I’m sure he’d have a problem with it, but it wouldn’t stop me thinking it or repeating it in personal conversations with others. As long as I kept that speech away from key stakeholders and didn’t let it affect productivity, my opinion of him were mine to be had. The language that opinion comes in matters the least.

    • talaktochoba

      i had a supervisor like that, too–so bad, in fact, i spent a good deal of my time, unbeknownst to him, talking other incensed employees, male and female, out of doing him grievous bodily harm;

      believe me when i say this, you insult asses of every stripe…

    • Me27

      There is no official language in America.