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Do you speak English ?
In a recent Seminar Mark Wright, of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) informed the audience that the Commission is seeking to influence government on language. The EHRC would like to see individuals receiving information in their own language.
Typically an employee’s written terms and conditions ends with a sentence such as “I have read and understood the above terms”. This is then signed, often irrespective of whether the employee’s first language is English or indeed whether they can read or understand English at all! In London there are estimated to be over 300,000 people who do not speak English.
So the EHRC may have a point.
A Substantial task
But in employment terms it offers huge difficulties. For example if a Polish worker has a set of written particulars in Polish and there is a dispute then, at present, the English interpretation will prevail. What then is the value of the Polish translation? Even outside a dispute situation, how can the English employer be sure that a Polish translation is accurate, or that it is setting the right tone and expectations? And, to return to London, English and Polish are only two of over a hundred different languages spoken. It is a substantial task.
For now there is no specific legal obligation to provide translations of employment documents. Going forward that may change. In the meantime some attention to providing important information in different languages may be a good practice. After all, if an employee does not understand what you expect of them then they are never going to do their best for you.
Malcolm Martin – QCS Expert Human Resources Contributor
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