Should employers provide written translations of antidiscrimination policies to Spanish-speaking employees?


There are a number of Hispanic employees at your company who speak little or no English. Should your company provide written, Spanish translations of its antidiscrimination policies to these employees?


While federal law does not expressly require employers to provide Spanish-speaking employees with Spanish translations of antidiscrimination policies, it is in an employer’s best interest to make sure that all employees are actually informed of such policies and that their policies are actually effective. This is especially true when it comes to sexual harassment.

As an example, a federal court in Colorado held that an employee’s sexual harassment lawsuit could proceed to trial despite the employer’s contention that it took measures to prevent sexual harassment, including adopting and implementing a policy to prevent and address sexual harassment, displaying a video to employees, and conducting periodic training. The complainants in the case had all seen the video and signed statements acknowledging receipt of the employee handbook containing the policy.

The court, however, found there was a question as to whether these efforts amounted to “reasonable care” to prevent sexual harassment. The court was concerned about whether the employer adequately informed employees who spoke and read only Spanish about the policy. The policy was in English, and there was no evidence that its provisions were translated into Spanish or that written translations were given to Spanish-speaking employees. Although the video was presented in Spanish, it did not purport to be a complete statement of the contents of the policy.

There was also a question as to whether the policy provided a meaningful remedy for Spanish-speaking employees. Spanish-speaking employees could not directly bring complaints to the individuals identified in the policy because they did not speak Spanish — they had to supply their own interpreter or rely on another employee, which would deprive them of confidentiality. Even worse, the primary bilingual person who usually explained the policy and interpreted for Spanish-speakers was the supervisor accused of sexual harassment. There was also evidence that employees did not report the harassment because they were concerned about confidentiality and retaliation.

Source: EEOC v. The Spud Seller, Inc. (DColo 2012) No. 10-cv-02381-MSK-KLM.

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