Instruction to speak English not discrimination

Kelly v Covance Laboratories Ltd

The Claimant in this case was a Russian national who worked at a laboratory which was involved in animal testing. The Respondent was concerned that the Claimant might be an animal rights infiltrator as she would regularly leave her work station and talk in Russian on the telephone. The Claimant was told that she was not allowed to speak Russian at work. The Claimant alleged that she had been subjected to race and sex discrimination, harassment and victimisation.

The Employment Tribunal held that the Respondent's language policy of requiring only English to be spoken at work was not applied because of the Claimant's race or national origin, but because of her behaviour at work in the context of that particular working environment.

The Employment Tribunal concluded that there had been no direct discrimination and there was no evidence that the instruction had caused any harassment. The Employment Appeal Tribunal upheld the finding of the Employment Tribunal. They noted that whilst it can be direct discrimination or harassment to ban the use of a foreign language at work, in this situation, anyone speaking any other language apart from English would have been treated in the same way as the Claimant.

In Practice

The Respondent had good reason to impose the requirement of only speaking English on all its employees in this case. There was a specific threat to security at its laboratory due to the nature of the work and therefore the Respondent could clearly show the policy was not down to the Claimant’s nationality per se. Employment Partner Kate Fretten explains, "employers should note that they must always have a good reason, not connected to any of the protected characteristics, such as sex and race, for such a policy in order to avoid any potential successful claims."

Our Employment Team, based in Christchurch, also cover Bournemouth, Poole and the New Forest. For a free initial chat, please call 01202 499255 and Kate or a member of the team will be happy to discuss any questions that you may have.