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Watch Your Language If you require employees to speak only English, you'd better beware of the EEOC.

By Jane Easter Bahls

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

English may be our nation's official language, but thatdoesn't mean all Americans speak it. The U.S. Census Bureaureports that nearly 32 million people over the age of 5--14 percentof all U.S. residents--speak a language other than English in theirhomes. And more than half the 24 million foreign-born U.S.residents speak little or no English.

These barriers pose big problems in the workplace. According toLowell Gallaway, an economist at Ohio University in Athens, thelack of English proficiency among foreign-born U.S. workers costsemployers $65 billion a year in lost productivity. And customersand co-workers often complain about employees speaking otherlanguages, accusing them of being rude or mocking them in alanguage they can't understand.

In response to these problems, a growing number of employershave established policies stating that only English may be spokenon the job. By doing so, however, you risk incurring the wrath ofthe Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which isopposed to English-only rules and prosecutes companies that imposethem for national-origin discrimination. In general, courts havebeen supportive of employers' policies, as long as there'sa good reason for them. In two major cases, federal courts havestated they disagree with EEOC guidelines on the matter and refuseto be ruled by them.

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