For the past 24 years the plant where I work has required that all workers on our plant site be able to speak, understand and read English.
Yes, that's legal. We don't have an "English only" rule that everyone must speak English all the time, or anything like that. It's just that all of our safety signs, policies and procedures are written in English. If this refinery-type plant were to have a release of chlorine (the worst-case event at our site) we have to be able to communicate quickly and understandably the location and quantity of the release, the wind direction, and whether workers should evacuate or shelter in place.
Many (actually most) of our employees speak at least a little Spanish (or what we locally call "Tex-Mex," a colloquial idiomatic Spanish "dialect."). Even I understand enough to know when I'm being referred to as an asshole (culero, pronounced "cool arrow") or worse. Yeah, it happens. Some even call me that in English when I do or say something unpopular.
Whatever. Sticks and stones, y'know?
But now, in 2007, we may no longer be able to require English proficiency.
Why not? Because we're starting some construction projects staffed by employees of contract firms, and although those firms used to be able to provide English-proficient employees, they now tell us they no longer can do so. In this area, people skilled in bricklaying, scaffolding, welding, and other trades are predominantly Hispanic. And many do not speak or read English.
There just aren't enough English-proficient people around with the skills we need.
So in order to allow them to work on projects in the plant we must either provide a full-time bilingual "escort," OR we must provide signage, instructions and training in Spanish. It's not a legal issue; it's being forced on us by the marketplace.
Seems to me that ought to be some kind of commentary on our times, or our system, or our education, or something . . . but I'm not sure exactly what.