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06th February 2015

Interpreting what your workers say

Interpreting what your workers sayI remember a Tribunal case some years ago, where the supervisor was deemed to have discriminated against an employee who was deaf and who depended on sign language. The investigation and disciplinary meeting had relied heavily on the assumption that the deaf person had been offended by an action (unrelated to deafness) taken by the supervisor. Though she had protested, via sign language, that she was not offended, this assertion was dismissed on the assumption that she was only being polite.

Here fairness (or unfairness) rested not on a translation of what the deaf person was saying but on an interpretation, yet the evidence in this case came via a signer, not an interpreter. A subtle difference - and a miscarriage of justice might have arisen.

Translation of words

Similar problems arise, for employers, from the increasing number of immigrant workers whose command of English is limited. Just as with sign language, a pure translation of words (which can now be done on Google) is insufficient to convey the nuances of meaning that might arise in, say a disciplinary hearing.

With over a hundred main languages spoken and hundreds of thousands of people unable to speak English well, or at all, UK care sector employers should no longer ignore the need not just for translation but for interpretation too.

This is particularly pertinent if you need a “difficult conversation”, especially over a performance, attendance or disciplinary issue.

Options for the employer

There are a number of options for the employer:

  • Sometimes a member of the employee’s family will be able to interpret in a meeting. Care needs to be taken here as the interpreter may have their own “axe to grind”.
  • Although generally restricted to metropolitan areas, face-to-face interpretation services may be available – Google: “interpretation services face to face” for example.
  • Telephone interpretation via a speakerphone can be available on a pay as you go basis. Google: “telephone interpreters” for example.
  • Local Chamber of Commerce or other groups may be able to help you access services; a recommendation can save much googling.

Points to watch:

  • Make sure you (and the service provider) understand the difference between translation and interpretation. There is a useful article here.
  • Make sure your interpreter understands employment, or at least business. Ask about their clients and the work that they do for them.

Malcolm Martin of Employer Solutions – QCS HR Expert contributor.


Topics: Human Resources

Sarah Riley

Senior Customer Care Executive

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