Many hospitals feel the urge to impose an English-only policy in the Emergency Room. Life-or-death situation, everybody needs to be on the same page, all that jazz. The policy seems somewhat unnecessary, since common sense should dictate that people will communicate in an intelligible language in such high-risk jobs, but I’m not going to pick apart hospital policy that seems to have a rational grounding. On the other hand, I do take issue with the utterly ridiculous firing of a group of nurses for speaking another language during their lunch break.
“Pass the salt” is hardly a communication that somebody’s life depends on, so if a group of Filipina nurses wants to speak Tagalog over sandwiches, how about everybody else mind their own business? If they want a non-Tagalog speaker to pass them the salt, I’m sure they’ll put the request in English. I fail to see what rationale basis this provides for firing, nor who is harmed by hearing another language with a cool name like “Tagalog” spoken.
Yet the Bon Secours Hospital in Baltimore City seems to feel that overhearing hard-working nurses shooting the breeze in another language while on break is grounds for immediate termination. The hospital offered no critique of performance, just outrage at hearing non-English words spoken. A secretary who was also fired never imagined that she would get in trouble for exchanging words in her native tongue, since her work has nothing to do with patient medical care. In fact, she’s not sure what word, exactly, she was fired for, but thinks it might have been calling a Filipino doctor “Kuya” (“Sir”).
That’s right: the hospital’s policy is so vague, speaking a single word in Tagalog (or any other language besides English) is enough to set off the firing of an otherwise exemplary staffer.
For the sudden terminations in question, the hospital has been unable to provide documentation of when the language faux pas took place, which suggests that anybody could be let go on extremely shaky grounds, perhaps just on a ruse to get rid of immigrant staff. This is discrimination and xenophobia, plain and simple, and it raises questions about whether the broader English-only policy was truly implemented to assure better patient care, or whether that was just a ruse for an anti-immigrant practice.
The hospital staff have fired a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for discriminatory violation of their basic rights and lack of due process. In a similar case from 2005 in which the EEOC ruled that discrimination had taken place, a group of Hispanic housekeepers were sanctioned for saying “hasta la vista” as a goodbye. Seriously? Spanish is not Arnold Schwarzenegger’s first language, but that’s his big movie catch phrase. Are foreign languages so ugly to American ears? (I’m reminded of the spoof video of an Alabama gubernatorial campaign ad: “When I’m governor, Juan’s Taqueria will become John’s Flour Bread Sandwiches.”)
English is my first language, but I drop in words and phrases from other languages from time to time. Virtually everybody does, since so many foreign words have become a part of our everyday “American.” Ever said “ciao”? That’s Italian, my friend. Whoops — and “faux pas” is French, so I’ve already used another language in this post. It’s time to cut the English-only xenophobia; not even the English language itself is truly English-only.
Hasta la vista, amigos.