[IPAC-List] foreign language as a minimum requirement for employment

Jim Kuthy jkuthy at biddle.com
Fri Jan 9 16:24:47 EST 2009

If a requirement requiring bilingualism has adverse impact, it must be
shown to be valid (i.e., job related and consistent with business
necessity) to address the federal Uniform Guidelines on Employee
Selection Procedures.

Customer preference is not an acceptable reason for this requirement if
there is adverse impact. For example, casinos argued for years that
gamblers preferred male dealers such that casino management insisted
that no one would play at a gaming table with a female dealer. This
would be discriminatory and indefensible. (And, it has also been proven
false, since successful casinos now regularly employ female dealers).

However, there are times in which being bilingual can be job related and
consistent with business necessity. For example, if you are hiring
someone to teach English to people who speak a foreign language, it
would acceptable to require that person to be bilingual in both the
foreign language and English. Similarly, if you were hiring sales people
to work at a location where the majority of customers spoke a foreign
language, this also would provide evidence of this being a job-related

Some public-safety communication centers have been requiring a
percentage of their calltakers to be bilingual so that they can serve
the needs of those in need who speak a foreign language. However, they
generally address this by hiring both mono-lingual and bilingual
employees, but encouraging bilingual candidates by offering some sort of
financial incentive to those qualified candidates who are bilingual. (In
the interest of full disclosure in 2008 I developed a work-sample test
for English/French public-safety dispatcher/calltakers and in 2009 we
are developing English/Spanish and English/Mandarin versions).

My suggestion is to conduct a job analysis and if the requirement
represents a knowledge, skill, or ability that addresses Section 15C4 of
federal Uniform Guidelines it would be acceptable. Otherwise, it would
likely result in being found discriminatory.

Jim Kuthy, Ph.D.
Principal Consultant
Biddle Consulting Group, Inc.

-----Original Message-----
From: Pluta, Paul [mailto:ppluta at hr.lacounty.gov]
Sent: Friday, January 09, 2009 12:17 PM
To: IPAC-List at ipacweb.org
Subject: [IPAC-List] foreign language as a minimum requirement for

I have been seeing bilingual as a requirement for employment
increasingly over the past few years. What if such a requirement
results in adverse impact for different groups based on national origin?
What are the criteria for defensibility in terms of the job-relatedness
of the requirement? Is this requirement most often based on a "business
necessity" or "customer preference"? Does anyone know if this
requirement has ever been challenged in court? It seems to me that any
organization that does business exclusively within the borders of the
United States (excluding some territories, such as Puerto Rico) would
only be imposing the requirement based on customer preference. However,
multinational corporations that conduct business on a regional or global
scale may be able to make a better argument for business necessity.
Where is the line that divides customer preference from business
necessity in this situation? Are there any thoughts, experiences, or
opinions anyone would like to share?

Paul E. Pluta, MA, SPHR

Human Resources Analyst III

Los Angeles County Department of Human Resources

Workforce Planning, Test Research, & Appeals Division

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