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Protecting Employer Rights In Virginia

by @ 11:19 am on January 17, 2008. Filed under Immigration, Virginia, Virginia Politics

A Republican State Senator has introduced a bill that would permit employers to fire someone who cannot speak English without being liable for unemployment benefits:

RICHMOND, Jan. 16 — A Republican state senator from Fairfax County has introduced a proposal that would allow a boss to fire employees who don’t speak English in the workplace, which would make them ineligible for unemployment benefits.

Sen. Ken Cuccinelli II said the law is needed because a growing number of employers in Northern Virginia are frustrated that some immigrants never learn English, although they said they would when they were hired.

“The point here isn’t to be mean; the point is to allow circumstances to give employers their own ability to hire and fire people who may not speak English,” Cuccinelli said.

Now, Virginia is already an “at will” employment state, meaning that someone can be hired for fired for any reason without liability to the employer unless there was a violation of civil rights law. The problem, though, is that employers who exercise their right to fire someone who refuses to learn English face the possibility of higher unemployment taxes:

Cuccinelli said he drafted the bill after a business owner approached him last year and complained that his unemployment taxes rose after he fired someone who didn’t learn English.

“They had an understanding the employee would improve their English capabilities, and that didn’t happen,” Cuccinelli said. “We are an at-will employment state, but there is a question about having to pay more unemployment insurance.”

Well, it makes sense to me. If someone is hired with the understanding that they will speak English in the performance of their job duties, or even that they will take classes to improve their English skills, and they fail to do so, an employer should have the right to terminate them without having to worry about paying higher taxes.

The reaction from opponents, of course, is typical:

“This is the most mean-spirited piece of legislation I have seen in my 30 years down here,” Senate Majority Leader Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax) said.

Translation — I have no real argument against this law, but Senator, you’re just a big meanie for expecting that people would live up to their promises.

7 Responses to “Protecting Employer Rights In Virginia”

  1. Louise says:

    How is a promise to learn how to file better any different than one to learn how to speak a language better? And yet, that person would get unemployment. The employer took a chance — and lost. It was up to the employer to assess the potential of a new employee to live up to the promise that he or she made.

    Let’s switch it around: if an employer needed someone to speak a foreign language for a business (translating for a hospital, let’s say) and an English speaker promised to improve — would it be ok for the employer to fire them and not to pay for their unemployment?

    An employer has to be smart and make smart decisions. I don’t think society should have to pay for the mistakes of dumb employers if a badly treated employee needs food-stamps or whatever. These employees may go through a rough time after a quickie firing that may leave their children hungry. The employer should pay for his bad judgment — not ME!

    This is simply another ploy. If you want to discriminate against the recently arrived who have gotten work permits or those who have recently become citizens, just say so and don’t hide behind “good business practices.”

  2. Steve says:

    Call me crazy, but how do you HIRE someone that cant’ speak english?! If that’s important to you — and it should be I think you deserve to be stuck with them and the unemployment tax for trying to fire them.

    I mean if I interview at a restaurant and swear I’m going to learn how to cook, and then don’t learn how to cook. Should the restaurant have the right to fire me? What were they doing hiring me in the first place. As pointed out VA is already and at-will to hire/fire state, this seems like a an underhanded way to let employers hire illegal non-English people — use them and then fire them without paying higher taxes.

    If you hire illegal people that can’t speak English, I got no sympathy for you.

  3. Let’s switch it around: if an employer needed someone to speak a foreign language for a business (translating for a hospital, let’s say) and an English speaker promised to improve — would it be ok for the employer to fire them and not to pay for their unemployment?

    Yes. It’s called a contract. If you breach it, you pay the consequences.

  4. Steve,

    What about a situation where someone was hired for a position that didn’t require English language proficiency and later promoted to one that did on the condition that they would improve their English skills ?

    Also, I would note that there is a difference between being about to speak English enough to function in daily life and being able to speak it proficiently enough to interact with the public in a retail setting.

  5. Andrew says:


    Your response, “Yes. It’s called a contract. If you breach it, you pay the consequenses,” is completely inaccurate. If you fire someone for not learning a foreign language, unless it’s part of the ‘pattern of misconduct’ mentioned below, which you will need to convince someone else of, the employer WILL have to pay unemployment benefits. Per the article you cite in this post:

    “Terminated employees are ineligible for unemployment benefits if they fail a drug test, falsify a job application with respect to a criminal record, commit an act that causes the employer to lose his business license or miss too many days of work. A claim can also be denied if the employee violates a “reasonable company law” and has “a pattern of misconduct that shows a willful disregard for an employer’s legitimate business interest,” Walsh said.”

    so… the bill being introduced aims to add something along the lines of ‘failure to learn English as specified at hiring’ as a reason for termination without increase in unemployment taxes to that list. There is nothing about not learning a non-English language.

  6. Andrew,

    I recognize it adds something new. Appparently, it is based on the fact that at least one Virginia Employment Commission Commissioner had ruled that a fired employer in a situation like this was entitled to unemployment benefits.

  7. mcas says:

    “Yes. It’s called a contract.”

    …If there was a contract, yes- and you would be fired for breach of contract.

    If a ‘you’ll work on your English?’ and they say ‘Yeah’… that’s NOT a contract.

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