Photo: Whole Foods
The Whole Foods Market chain has denied banning the use of Spanish or any other language except English among employees, but promised to review its current policy amid a controversy that has even sparked threats of a boycott.
The Austin, Texas-based company said in a communique that it has no policy “banning the use of a foreign language,” a month after two employees in Albuquerque, New Mexico, alleged they were suspended for complaining that they had been forbidden to speak Spanish to each other.
The company’s current policy rules that employees must speak English with customers and with other employees during working hours, except when customers speak to them in another language.
On Thursday, the company issued a statement saying it “celebrates” the cultural diversity of its employees and that “the suspension was due to the employees’ rude and disrespectful behavior both in an office and in front of customers inside a store.”
A spokeswoman for the company, Libba Letton, said Friday on ABC television that Whole Foods has launched an evaluation of its current policy “and it will be the topic of ongoing conversations at an all-leadership conference next week.”
The two employees, identified as Bryan Baldizan and Lupe Gonzalez by the Albuquerque channel KRQE, said the only thing they did was write a letter complaining that employees were told during a meeting not to speak Spanish to one another.
Whole Foods says, however, that 17 other employees at the same meeting deny that any such instruction was given.
The incident, which occurred last month, has become public relations nightmare for Whole Foods, which faces protests on social networks, while some civic groups have formulated petitions demanding a change in company policy.
The League of United Latin American Citizens, or LULAC, an influential group that defends Hispanics’ civil rights in this country, has threatened Whole Foods with a boycott if the company does not change its policy within a week.