Whole Foods Criticized for English-Only Policy

Two employees claim they were suspended for complaining about Whole Foods' policy that employees speak only English while at work. The New Mexico League of United Latin American Citizens and ProgressNow New Mexico are threatening boycotts of Whole Foods. 

WholeFoodsMarketExt_bigOn its website, the company posted this response-in both English and Spanish:

Whole Foods Market® responds to AP story about Spanish speaking team members

Article is misleading; company celebrates and honors our diverse team members

AUSTIN, Texas (June 6, 2013) – At Whole Foods Market, we do not have "no foreign languages spoken" policies in any of our stores. Our policy is that the default language is English, for consistent communication, inclusion, and especially for safety and emergency situations. We want our team members to use their judgment about when it's appropriate to speak other languages. We are proud of our multilingual team members and try to work with customers in other languages whenever needed!

The facts are: two team members in New Mexico became upset when they believed they were told in a team meeting they could not speak Spanish at work. That was not what was communicated. They were suspended with pay due to rude and disrespectful behavior. Their suspension was due to their behavior alone, not for speaking Spanish.

Nevertheless, the store leadership launched a full investigation and seventeen team members who also attended the meeting confirmed that the language policy was discussed, and at no time were the two team members told they could not speak Spanish.

We will be looking at written guidelines across our multiple regions on this front to ensure clarity.

The statement could use some editing. For starters, "Spanish speaking team members" needs a hyphen for clarity. Also, isn't speaking Spanish a behavior? The sentence, "Their suspension was due to their behavior alone, not for speaking Spanish" is unclear, and "due to" is best reserved for owing money.

Image source.

Discussion Starters:

  • What's your view of English-only policies at work? Do you buy Whole Foods' justification?
  • Assess the company's response. What works well, and what else could be improved?