Photo: Whole Foods
The U.S. supermarket chain Whole Foods said it has revised its guidelines for employees on the use of languages other than English following the “unfortunate incident” involving the suspension of two Spanish-speaking workers.
The new rules ask employees who can speak English to “please speak with them in English, unless requested otherwise by the customer.”
They also ask that when speaking with customers or fellow team members, to “please make sure you are sensitive to others who may want to join your conversation or ask you a question. If needed, switch to a common language to be inclusive and respectful.”
The company, based in Austin, Texas, was the center of a bitter controversy a month after two employees in Albuquerque, New Mexico, said they were suspended for writing a letter complaining that they had been told not to speak Spanish to each other.
The supermarket’s employee manual told employees to speak English with customers and with other employees during working hours, unless the customers spoke to them in another language.
Walter Robb, co-CEO of Whole Foods, said Saturday that this was all the result of an “unfortunate incident,” and apologized “that a section of our handbook regarding team member interactions in the workplace was not clearly written, and for any misunderstandings or offense it has created. Its intention was to foster inclusion, not exclusion.”
Robb said the suspension of the employees was not due to the fact that they were speaking Spanish, but for their bad behavior.
The chief executive expressed confidence that with the modifications to the guidelines, workers will be able to share the riches of their cultures in the language they prefer, while at the same time making sure to be “courteous, respectful and inclusive among our customer and team member base.”