Seven Puerto Rican nurses and administrative employees at a Florida Health Department clinic say that their supervisors threatened to fire them for speaking Spanish with one another, according to the Associated Press. The alleged threat may be a violation of federal workplace discrimination rules.
The women, who work at a clinic in Haines City, Florida, said in a news conference Monday they were hired in part because of their ability to speak Spanish with patients. They filed a human resources complaint and wrote a letter to the Florida Department of Health, according to the AP.
One of the nurses said that the nurses are careful to speak English when around non-Spanish-speaking patients and staff, but they opt for their native language when speaking with one another. One nurse told NBC affiliate WFLA that she found it difficult to remember to speak English with other nurses because Spanish served as the default language in day-to-day operations. “It’s hard because I practically speak Spanish all day with the patients,” she said. “The majority of the patients that come through the clinic speak Spanish. They don’t speak English. That’s why I was hired.”
According to Equal Employment Opportunity Commission rules, under federal law a workplace cannot mandate employees speak solely English unless the job can properly justify such a rule as “business necessity.”