(ST. PAUL, MN, 9/16/08) – The Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MN) today called on a Macy’s department store in that state to clarify a new “English only” policy under which Muslim workers were allegedly threatened with termination if they spoke “even one word” of Somali.
CAIR-MN was contacted by six Somali-speaking employees, some of whom have been employed at the store for more than four years, who say the new policy prohibits workers from speaking any language other than English during work hours at the department store’s Southdale Mall location in Edina, Minn.
The new policy reportedly applies to employees who work in the warehouse packaging and unpacking merchandise, but not to employees who work in other areas of the store. Somali-speaking workers say the policy is discriminatory and that they have always spoken English with English-speaking co-workers and customers.
A company flier obtained by CAIR-MN announcing the minutes from a staff meeting read in part:
“It is Macy East’s policy that a common language is spoken during work – therefore, effective immediately all associates must speak English while working – It is a job requirement to speak and read English…”
[Note: A Macy’s representative has since denied the existence of an English only policy despite the clear language of the company document.]
Prior to the English only policy, the six employees allege that they were asked by management to train new Somali employees using the Somali language. They say they were also approached in the past by non-Somali-speaking employees for assistance communicating with Somali-speaking customers.
“Federal law and the Minnesota Human Rights Acts state that employers are not allowed to discriminate against employees based on national origin, which includes ‘English only’ policies in the workplace,” said CAIR-MN Civil Rights Director Taneeza Islam. “It is clear that there can be no business-related need for this policy, as these same employees were asked to use their Somali language skills during work hours to assist customers and train other employees.”
Ms. Islam added that CAIR-MN is seeking an investigation into the matter to ensure that all relevant laws are being followed.
CAIR offers a booklet called “An Employer’s Guide to Islamic Religious Practices” to help corporate managers gain a better understanding of Islam and Muslims in the workplace.
SEE: An Employer’s Guide to Islamic Religious Practices
CAIR, America’s largest Islamic civil liberties and advocacy group has 35 offices and chapters nationwide and in Canada. Its mission is to enhance the understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.
CONTACT: CAIR-MN Chapter Coordinator Chris Schumacher, 651-645-7102, E-Mail: email@example.com; CAIR-MN Civil Rights Director Taneeza Islam, 651-587-4712, E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; CAIR National Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper, 202 488-8787 or 202-744-7726, E-Mail: email@example.com