WORKPLACE LAW - Posting in Other Languages

Question:

I have several employees who are non-English speaking. Does the law require that I provide materials to them in Spanish or can I expect them to have it translated for them?

Answer:

In California there are several requirements that obligate employers under certain circumstances to post notices in foreign languages. The Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”) requires that employers who employ a significant number of non-English speaking individuals at any facility or establishment post excerpts of the Act, and such relevant information as the Department deems necessary to explain the Act, in the appropriate foreign language. Employers who are covered by the California Family Rights Act (“CFRA”) and employ a significant number of non-English speaking individuals are required to post a Notice of Right to Request CFRA Leave, and a Notice of Right to Request Pregnancy Disability Leave or Transfer, in the appropriate foreign language. Employers covered by CFRA include those doing business in California and employing 50 or more part-time or full-time employees, including non-profit religious organizations, the State of California, and any of its political and civil subdivisions, and cities and counties, regardless of the number of employees. Both FEHA and CFRA regard a “significant number” as no less than 10% of the work force.

Employers in California are also required to provide to every new employee, either at the time of hire or by the end of the first pay period, the Written Notice to New Employees concerning the rights, benefits and obligations under worker's compensation law. The notice must be made available in both English and Spanish where there are Spanish-speaking employees.

Federal law also requires employers to post information in foreign languages. Under the federal Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), if a significant portion of the employees are not literate in English, employers covered by the FMLA must post a notice, in the language in which the employees are literate, explaining the Act’s provisions and providing information on the procedures for filing complaints. The FMLA applies to public agencies, including state, local and federal employers, local education agencies (schools), and to private-sector employers who employed 50 or more employees in 20 or more workweeks in the current or preceding calendar year and who are engaged in commerce or in any industry or activity affecting commerce.

Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) regulations require employers to provide employees with information and training on hazardous chemicals in their work area. If the employees do not understand English, the employer must inform and train them in the language they understand.

Although there is no requirement under the law that documents such as employee handbooks be provided to non-English speaking employees in their foreign language, it is advisable to do so where the employer has a significant number of non-English speaking employees. For example, if an employee signs an acknowledgement of receipt of the employer’s handbook but does not understand the language in the acknowledgment of receipt, much less the employer’s handbook, it is difficult for the employer to argue that the employee knew and understood its policies. Additionally, it is important to provide non-English speaking employees with training in a foreign language that they understand. For example, in providing anti-harassment training, an employer should ensure that the employee receives training in a language that he or she will understand.

The above rules do not purport to set forth every notice that or situation in which an employer must post or provide information in a foreign language. However, an employer should be aware of the potential for employees not understanding English in the workplace and ensure that it is protected from claims that employer policies were not understood.
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