Whole Foods Cleans Up Language-Use Policy, Hoping To End Anti-Spanish Claims

Whole Foods (NASDAQ:WFM) has rewritten part of its employee handbook in hopes of quelling the backlash from a policy that appeared to forbid associates from speaking any language other than English.

The changes, announced by Whole Foods co-CEO Walter Robb in a blog post on Friday (June 14), don't appear to make a substantial change to the company's policy. Both the old and new versions of the policy match statements made by the retailer earlier this month.

The backlash erupted after after two associates at a store in Albuquerque were suspended for one day with pay. The suspension reportedly came because the two behaved inappropriately after a meeting in which the store's staff was told about the company's language-use policy, which the company says the associates misunderstood.

In fairness to the associates, the policy's wording was tricky. The old version of the policy begins with two specific rules stating that, in the presence or customers or other associates, "it is essential that the conversation be in English." But that's immediately followed by the following: "These rules shall not apply to conversations among Team Members or with customers if all present prefer to speak a language other than English."

The new version of the policy gets rid of the "it is essential" language, and talks about "guidelines" instead of "rules." But it also presents the guidelines in a more practical way:

If you speak English and you need to communicate with an English-speaking customer, please speak with them in English, unless requested otherwise by the customer.

When speaking with customers or fellow Team Members, 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.

For more:

- See the Whole Foods statement (includes old and new versions of the wording)
- See this Associated Press story

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