A group of Hispanic custodians in Colorado are claiming they are victims of discrimination because their employer isn’t providing various workplace documents — including those involving safety training — in Spanish.
The 12 custodians have taken their case to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) which is conducting a full investigation.
They claim the Auraria Higher Education Center is leaving employees that only speak Spanish in the dark about the terms and conditions of their employment, changes in their working status and safety.
Officials at the Auraria Center say there is no state law in Colorado requiring complete translations. The employer believes employees should understand some basic English.
“It’s not our goal to provide every document translated or every conversation translated,” said an Auraria vice-president, Blaine Nickeson. “Our employees are expected to interact with members of the public, and we expect them to be able to understand English.”
Tim Markham, an attorney representing the employees, said issues because of the lack of communication in Spanish include janitors being pricked by needles. Auraria custodian Bertha Ribota told a Denver TV station that she was injured at work because she couldn’t read a warning sign that was in English.
Other institutes of higher learning in the area, including the University of Northern Colorado and the University of Colorado, provide their policies, procedures and other documents in several languages.
What does OSHA say?
It will be up to the EEOC to decide whether this is discrimination.
However, if it were up to OSHA, Auraria would probably be facing a citation.
In the Training Standards Policy Statement issued by OSHA administrator David Michaels in 2010, he said all training must be presented in a manner and language that employees can understand. This includes the revised training for hazard communication that employers are required to conduct by Dec. 1, 2013.
This policy dates back before the current administration. A statement in 2007 from then-OSHA head Edwin Foulke stated, “Employee training required by OSHA standards must be presented in a manner than employees can understand … it is the Agency’s position that, regardless of the precise regulatory language, the terms “train” and “instruct,” as well as other synonyms, mean to present information in a manner that employees receiving it are capable of understanding.”
There’s another situation in which this applies: when workers are illiterate. “If employees are not literate, telling them to read training materials will not satisfy the employer’s training obligation,” says the current OSHA guidance.
If you were creating OSHA regulations, would you require training to be in other languages if employees didn’t understand English? Let us know what you think about this in the comments below.