Whole Foods grilled over English-only policy

The grocer denies a report that 2 workers claim they were suspended for speaking Spanish.

By Aimee Picchi Jun 7, 2013 3:47PM

File photo of a Whole Foods sign (© Tim Boyle/Getty Images)Whole Foods (WFM) claims something got lost in translation. 


Two workers at a New Mexico store say that they were suspended for speaking Spanish and that a manager told them only English is allowed during work hours, The Associated Press reports. 


That has led to outrage from some Twitter users. One wrote, "Hey @WholeFoods we are good enough to slave in the fields to get your food, but can't speak Spanish during work?"


Some consumers are threatening to boycott the grocery chain, known for organic produce and free-range eggs. 


Now Whole Foods says the incident was a misunderstanding and the company doesn't have a policy against speaking foreign languages. Nevertheless, the high-end grocer said it does have a policy that English is its default language for "consistent communication, inclusion, and especially for safety and emergency situations." The company issued the statement in both English and Spanish. 


The issue is a touchy one in the workplace. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued the Salvation Army in 2007 over its requirement that workers in a Massachusetts office speak only English. Such conflicts may be more common as more people speak languages other than English at home. The nation gained 24.4 million Spanish speakers from 1980 to 2009. 


The EEOC says English-only policies "will rarely be justified," although there are circumstances in which a rule may be necessary, such as to communicate emergencies or other situations in which safety is at risk. 


Worker Bryan Baldizan told the AP that he and a female worker were suspended for a day after they wrote a complaint letter after a meeting in which they were told Spanish wasn't allowed during work hours. 


"I couldn't believe it," he said. "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."


As outrage mounts over the report, it has sent Whole Foods deep into crisis mode. The grocery chain said the workers were suspended for "rude and disrespectful behavior." Whatever happened, one thing seems certain: Whole Foods has a big mess on its hands.


Follow Aimee Picchi on Twitter at @aimeepicchi. 


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Tags: RetailWFM
12Comments
Jun 7, 2013 5:02PM
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There's more to this story than the employees just speaking Spanish.  My guess is they were talking smack about the customers and someone who speaks Spanish knew what they were saying.

 

The only reason to change languages around people is to say something you don't want them to "hear".  Based on the quote from one of the suspended worker's, his English is excellent.  This isn't about some kind of language barrier or lack of fairness.

Jun 7, 2013 7:12PM
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It is about time a company finally did this! If you go into Krogers,Albertsons,Mcdonalds or just about any business in Texas they are all speaking in spanish to each other. If these companies are going to have a business in the US than they should require their employees to speak english.
Jun 7, 2013 6:44PM
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Learn to speak English.  You want a job.   Then do what they say.
Jun 7, 2013 5:35PM
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These two emplyees shouldn't talking about them selves on company's time on spanish or inglish! they should have been working or talking about work related issues, and they should speak the official language which is Inglish! in the USA. they can talk any language they want when they're off work!
Jun 7, 2013 5:22PM
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No offense meant here, but if you work in fields picking food you speak spanish, you come in from field work at store in USA, if you know english, you speak engli**** like being at home for me I walk around in gym shorts and a T shirt if I go somewhere I change clothes, although I have a right to wear what I want I change to go out in public......In USA if you know english, speak english all the migrant workers complaining know, if you go to some parts of Mexico and cant speak spanish and you are hispanic you can be killed, so why complain when all employers ask you to do is speak english, if you can, you should...
Jun 8, 2013 9:26AM
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English should be the national language and only English allowed in business and government. It is discrimination when a company prefers and only hires bi-lingual people. Why should I have to learn Spanish to work in my own country?
Jun 7, 2013 5:54PM
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Okay, I've heard two versions on this story in articles (this one and an NBC News one). The other version said they got suspended for a written (or emailed) complaint about the language policy. If that is true, I don't think that's fair. If in fact they were penalized for speaking Spanish on the job (and not for the purpose of aiding a Spanish-speaking customer which is allowed in Whole Foods' policy, evidently), well that is an internal policy matter.

 

I am not a fan of Whole Foods. I think they are over-priced and elitist (I never feel comfortable in there and I make enough money that I could shop there if I wanted to), but I don't oppose this policy or think it is racist. It's not "oppressing someone's culture" to ask them to speak in a language that their co-workers, management, and customers can all understand. Why is it so outrageous to expect people to speak or understand English in an American workplace?

 

Lots of people are knee-jerking to "Whole Foods hates Mexicans" which is BS in my opinion. Whole Foods loves money. They don't care whose money it is as long as they get it.

 

They want all their staff to speak a common language while on the job so everybody knows what is being said. What if staff members are speaking another language and they say something insulting or inappropriate that is overheard by a customer? That's what this policy is really about.

Jun 9, 2013 1:12PM
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If we moved to another country to live and work, we would be expected to learn their language to communicate effectively and be a functioning part of their society.   So why does everyone throw a fit when we expect people to use English in America?  It is our primarily language, so learn it and use it when in a professional setting.  I'm not saying you need to banish your other language and assimilate yourself to the point of losing your heritage, but learn and use the primary language of country in which you live.  I think everyone just likes to piss and moan and complain about things.

Jun 10, 2013 7:42AM
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Many immigrant groups today coming to the USA have been accommodated and used so much as with the Spanish today in America and this was planned because of a Govt/Corp Globalist Alliance that wants cheap compliant slave labor.It has many negative consequences for mostly poor middle class poor of all backgrounds ,inability to communicate, more division This was planned and started years ago This is the Global/Corp /Elite Agenda and it is being fulfilled more and more every day  These are the results of this plan.Now you can be denied a job if you are not bilingual  WE ARE ALL DISCRIMINATED AGAINST  THE BIGGEST  PREJUDICE/DISCRIMINATION NOW IS CLASS AND AGE NOT RACE With poor communication you have Chaos confusion misinterpretation and the Corp Govt globalists thrive on this as well
Jun 10, 2013 2:52PM
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This country was founded with the English language as the primary language.  When my family emmigrated from Europe many years ago, it was EXPECTED that we learn English.  And we did...no bilingual classes or signs in two languages or "for Spanish press one".  Why is that such a novel idea nowadays???  You came HERE, learn the language.
Jun 8, 2013 4:37PM
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Why are people stereotyped as immigrants for speaking Spanish? 

For us New Mexicans it is a local courtesy to speak Spanish in New Mexico because it’s part of our tradition and cultural identity. We have been speaking Spanish here for generations. 

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