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Johnston health director tells workers to speak English

Posted October 22, 2015

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— The director of the Johnston County Health Department has instructed her staff to speak only English in the office unless they are dealing with customers who speak a foreign language or are on a break.

Dr. Marilyn Pearson declined to comment Thursday on an email she sent on Oct. 1. Johnston County Manager Rick Hester said he needed to get more details from Pearson before commenting.

"I'm sure we'll be having some more discussion just to understand it a little better," Hester said, adding that there are no plans to make this a policy for other county workers.

Pearson said in her email that health department workers raised concerns about foreign languages in the office.

"For the comfort of employees and to be respectful of others who do not share that language, staff are asked to speak English in the office when not on breaks or personal time," she wrote in the email.

A spokesman for the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission questioned the workplace rule, noting the health department could be inviting a lawsuit from some of its workers who speak other languages.

"We assert that employees have the right to speak other languages as long as they do not inconvenience customers or co-workers or cause any trouble for their employer in doing so. Especially unacceptable are policies that target one or more ethnic groups for different language rules from others," spokesman James Ryan said. "If English-only policies are evenly applied and reasonable and can be justified by business necessity, then EEOC would not necessarily oppose them."

George Eppsteiner, an attorney with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, called it "problematic" that Pearson was establishing the rule "for the comfort of employees."

"There didn't seem to be any pressing 'comfort of employees' to implement this type of policy," Eppsteiner said.

No one in the health department would say what led to the English-only rule.


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  • Brent Jernigan Oct 23, 2015
    user avatar

    SOB...SECURE OUR BORDERS! STOP THE INVASION! If people like Dr Pearson don't stand up for our America we won't have a country. If the efforts of those like her fail, will the last American out of Johnston County please bring the flag!

  • Peter Kerstetter Oct 23, 2015
    user avatar

    View quoted thread

    English is the lingua franca most the world over, but the US has no official language.
    Language is something governments have a hard time controlling. Canada spends a lot of money being bilingual even though most Canadians prefer English. Wales wanted to be bilingual because they don't like the English, and so Wales went bilingually on its own. India has over a dozen official languages with Hindi and English being the overarching languages. And they make it work.
    You can try to control what language people speak, but people will always speak whatever they want.

  • Sean Creasy Oct 23, 2015
    user avatar

    Considering that English is the national language I don't see a problem with this. If you go tony country in Central or South America they would expect you to speak Spanish just as if you went to Saudi Arabia or The Arab Emirates you would be expected to speak Arabic...

  • Thomas Fenske Oct 23, 2015
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    So I guess if you are deaf, you are out of luck using sign language.

    Most of the comments here make a broad assumption in that the supposed target of the rule are not "American." Perhaps some are legal residents with English as a second language, perhaps some are born and bred Americans who just happen to be bilingual. If the other employees have chosen to limit themselves to just one language, that was indeed their choice.
    This sounds like some people just don't like to feel like they are being talked about "behind their backs" in front of their faces.

  • Peter Kerstetter Oct 23, 2015
    user avatar

    I'm pretty sure the First Amendment allows you to speak Klingon, Esperanto, or whatever other language you want to speak.
    For there to be a policy of "English only," there needs to be a very high compelling state interest. And this article doesn't describe anything that would reach that level.

  • Forest Hazel Oct 23, 2015
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    More power to her. Let them speak whatever they want outside of work, but they should speak English on the job.

  • Chris Weaver Oct 23, 2015
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    No one in the health department would say what led to the English-only rule

    I'm thinking it has something to do with communication......

  • Josh Anderson Oct 23, 2015
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    Assimilation is the key to success in this country, so I applaud this move.

  • Ronald Woodard Oct 23, 2015
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    Choosing to speak in another language at one's job, outside of needing to communicate with customers, is disruptive in the workplace because it is usually being done so that other employees cannot know what is being said, This does not help morale and interferes with a sense of teamwork. It also tends to show that those choosing to speak in another language at work for non-job reasons on purpose are really not wanting to assimilate as an American.

  • Sam Adams Oct 23, 2015
    user avatar

    Makes sense. When I lived in Japan I didn't speak English, even though the majority Japanese do speak English. Out of respect, I learned Japanese and did my best to assimilate to their culture out of respect.