There is no denying that an inclusive workplace is becoming more and more vital. Employees need to feel comfortable, acknowledged and protected in their place of work. Not to mention, it is also good for business, but that shouldn’t be the primary reason for embracing diversity in the office.  Of course, a key expression of cultural heritage and individuality is language. But with English being the language that most business is conducted in South Africa, does this mean speaking the language can be enforced for non-business use? Let’s unpack language policies and workplace discrimination in South Africa.

How the law protects employees and cultural heritage and expression in the workplace in South Africa

Because South Africa is one of the most diverse – culturally, racially and economically- countries in the world, specific laws had to be drawn up, in order to ensure that everyone enjoys equal opportunity and fair treatment in the workplace.  This, of course, can be found in the Employment Equity Act, No 55 of 1998.

“Essentially, this Act protects employees from any form of discrimination from an employer, based on race, gender, religion, disability, and language – amongst many others,” says Adv. Jackie Nagtegaal, LAW FOR ALL’s Managing Director.

In short: you cannot be fired for speaking in your native language, as it would constitute discrimination.

Legal tip: If you feel as though you’ve been unjustly fired, here’s Basic Legal Advice for Dealing with Unfair Dismissal.

A breakdown: most spoken languages in South Africa

Not only is it discriminatory to try and enforce an English-only rule in the office, it’s also completely unrealistic. English is only the 6th most-spoken language in South Africa (it’s 8,1% of the population’s home language), whereas isiZulu and isiXhosa are the most spoken languages, according to StatsSA’s 2019 General Household Survey.

Image courtesy: Times Live

LAW FOR ALL- assisting policyholders in their home languages

One of LAW FOR ALL’s biggest strengths is its diverse workforce. It makes for a wonderfully inclusive office environment and allows us to assist our policyholders in a language they are most comfortable with.  “ It’s important for our company to accurately reflect the country we live in, and it adds to our mission to make the law accessible for all South Africans,” maintains Nagtegaal.

South African companies need to continuously review their workplace policies

It’s always advisable for employers to update and revise their company policies to ensure they are in line with the law and do not discriminate against any employees. It’s vital to comply with all labour laws and protect employees.

Failure to do so could result in expensive lawsuit and irreparable damage to the company’s reputation.

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