Later this month, new English language requirements will come into force for public sector workers in customer facing jobs.
From 21 November, public sector organisations must ensure that all of their employees who work in public facing roles are able to speak fluent English (English or Welsh if in Wales) under the Immigration Act 2016.
The government has published a Code of Practice to support employers to meet the new language requirements. The Code states that the standard of English or Welsh required will depend on things like how often the employee will be speaking with customers and how long for, the subject matter being discussed and the importance of spoken interaction for being able to adequately deliver the service.
Who does this affect?
• Government departments and non-departmental public bodies.
• Councils and local government organisations.
• NHS departments.
• State-funded schools.
• The armed forces and police.
• Public organisations.
• Agency staff and contractors hired by public organisations to provide customer facing services.
Voluntary sector and private sector providers of public services do not have to comply with the new language requirements.
What should public sector employers do?
All public sector organisations will need to make sure that all their relevant HR policies are updated to include the new language requirements and this includes recruitment procedures.
The Code of Practice takes the opportunity to remind employers that the Equality Act 2010 does not allow for any employer to discriminate against their workers on the basis of race or disability and that public authorities have a duty to eliminate discrimination.
The Code also explains the complaints procedure should a complaint be made by a member of the public after the fluency requirement has been introduced. Employers are urged to only deal with complaints that refer to language fluency, and should not react to any complaints that relate to an employee’s dialect or accent, or nationality.
Failure to comply
If staff do not meet the language fluency requirements, employers should look at providing them with additional training, consider re-deployment to a non-customer facing role or, as a last resort, they should be dismissed from employment.
But a word of caution, re-deploying or sacking an employee for failing to meet the language requirements could see you faced with a claim for unfair or constructive dismissal. So before you reach that point, make sure you are following the correct procedure and you have dotted all the i’s and crossed all the t’s.