Whole Foods Workers Suspended for Violating 'English Only' Policy

A Whole Foods Market store in Albuquerque reportedly suspended two employees for violating the company's "English-only" policy by speaking Spanish to each other during work hours.

According to one of the employees, Bryan Baldizan, the one-day suspension was handed to him and a female employee after they complained to a manager about the policy.

"I couldn’t believe it," Baldizan told the Associated Press. "All we did was say we didn’t believe the policy was fair. We only talk Spanish to each other about personal stuff, not work."

In a statement to the press, Whole Foods Market Rocky Mountain Region Executive Marketing Coordinator, said the company, based in Austin, Texas, has a policy requiring all "Team Members" to "speak English to customers and other Team Members while on the clock."

He said the policy ensures "a safe working environment" by promoting "a uniform form of communication."

"Team Members are free to speak any language they would like during their breaks, meal periods and before and after work," Friedland added.

A spokeswoman for the company, Libba Letton, initially told AP that the policy was put in place "so employees who don’t speak Spanish don’t feel uncomfortable."

However, after news of the policy and its consequences broke and a significant backlash ensued, Letton released a follow-up statement claiming the employees were not suspended for speaking Spanish or complaining about the policy, but rather for "rude and disrespectful behavior both in an office and in the store in front of customers."

She further walked back Friedland's statement that employees "must speak English," saying the word "must" was an "overstatement."

The furor-induced softening of a discriminatory policy was hardly enough for ProgressNow New Mexico, which is demanding Whole Foods "rescind its English-only policy" wholesale.

A petition to that effect posted on MoveOn.org has already received over 1,000 signatures.

[photo via AP]