Jul 09 2007 by Derek Torres Print This Article

If you plan on working in the United States, you may want to brush up on your English skills. If you're not from the US, you may be surprised to find out that there isn't an official language on the books here.

Yep, despite various attempts from people who forget that they too are foreigners here (or once were), courts have continually shot down proposals to make English the "official" language for being unconstitutional.

But wait! The Congress has recently managed to do what jingoistic lobbyists have been unable to do. An amendment has been passed that will prevent the EEOC (that's the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission - the good folks who make sure that discrimination is kept to a minimum) from suing companies that fire employees who speak English.

Let's just call a spade a spade Ė this is a clear attempt to prevent Spanish-speakers from using their language in the American workplace.

As an aside, I recall working in a non-English speaking country not so long ago where everyone spoke English and a strong minority of the employees didn't speak the local language. I don't recall the local government falling over themselves to show those people the door.

This is a appalling law in many respects; first, it reeks of someone's ill-advised political agenda. Requiring English speakers in places where a lack of English skills could put someone in danger Ė for example, at a hospital, a police station, emergency services, etc. would be a completely acceptable application of such a provision. But preventing people from working at the Salvation Army (how benevolent is that?), as the article in the link states, is simply about pandering to prejudice.

I wonder if this law will apply to American-born people who massacre the English language on a daily basis. Will those with an inability to conjugate verbs properly or those with poor spelling skills also be subject to firing?

And will it apply to engineers in software shops? In most software shops I've worked in, there have been a high proportion of foreign-born employees (non-Spanish speaking), all with varying levels of English skills.

The fact of the matter is that the US Congress is settings a dangerous precedent, one that may force them to come back and relook this issue sooner than one may think.