Florida

Florida health department workers say they could be fired for speaking Spanish

Workers at a Florida Department of Health clinic in Haines City in Polk County, including nurses, say they were told not to speak Spanish among themselves or they would lose their job. The Florida Department of Health is investigating.
Workers at a Florida Department of Health clinic in Haines City in Polk County, including nurses, say they were told not to speak Spanish among themselves or they would lose their job. The Florida Department of Health is investigating. NYT

Seven Puerto Rican workers from Central Florida said they were threatened with losing their jobs because they spoke Spanish inside their workplace, Channel 8 News reported.

The all-women group, consisting of five nurses, a secretary, and an administrative assistant who work in the Florida Health Department clinic in Haines City in Polk County, said their jobs were endangered because they communicated in their native language.

“I don’t feel comfortable. I feel like if I speak Spanish they’re watching me, they’re going to fire me. They’re going to do something because I’m speaking my language,” one of the women said to Channel 8.

According to the nurse, they communicate in English with patients and staff, but converse in Spanish with one another.

One nurse said she had been initially hired because of her bilingual abilities. According to her, most of the clinic’s patients are Hispanic, making her Spanish-speaking skills a valuable asset.

“It was truly surprising because they required us to be fluent in Spanish due to the great amount of bilingual patients who come here,” Gloria Maunez, a nurse at the clinic, said in a press release sent by Respeta Mi Gente Coalition.

A representative from the Florida Department of Health told el Nuevo Herald it is investigating the situation.

The incident has provoked a backlash from different organizations.

El Nueva Dia, a Puerto Rican newspaper, reported that Respeta Mi Gente Coalition, comprised of organizations such as Alianza for Progress, Boricua Vota, Boricuas de Corazón, Bring it Home, FLIC, Faith in Florida, For Our Future, Hispanic Federation, Misión Boricua, Organize Florida, Puerto Rico Connect and Vote Riders, held a press conference Monday to support the seven employees.

Organizers said Latino Justice, an organization that specializes in legal matters involving Hispanics, is investigating whether any legal violations occurred.

According to El Nuevo Dia, Haines City Mayor Morris West spoke at the press conference, noting the clinic is run by the state, not the city.

Overseeing a city where 38 percent of the population is Hispanic, the mayor emphasized the importance of diversity.

“We are a diverse city, and we don’t believe in discrimination. We are ready to assist these women in their allegations,” West told el Nuevo Herald.

Marcos Vilar, executive director of Alianza for Progress, said situations like this one are becoming increasingly common in the United States.

“We have seen that, under the current climate, there are more cases against the Hispanic community. They are developing due to the president’s rhetoric and due to other leaders who participate in a hostile rhetoric toward the Latino community,” Vilar said.

“This is a country formed by immigrants from all over the world, who speak many languages. We repudiate this incident, and we want the community to know that there are organizations fighting against this discrimination,” he added.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a federal agency, established that it is illegal to require an employee to speak only English, except when it’s essential for the workplace’s operations.

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