Whole Foods Softens "English Only" Stance

Following a brief uproar less than two weeks ago regarding its language policy, organic grocery specialist Whole Foods Market (NASDAQ: WFM  ) Friday officially softened the previous "English-only" stance outlined in its employee handbook.

Out with the old...
The initial incident arose when two Albuquerque workers claimed they were suspended after complaining about the policy. Whole Foods management, for their part, stated that the paid, one-day suspensions didn't actually stem from a violation of the policy, but instead were the result of "rude" workplace behavior exhibited by the employees.

Even so, co-CEO Walter Robb noted in a company blog posting that the "unfortunate incident" has provided Whole Foods the opportunity to revise the language of the policy "which, while in place for years, does not reflect and is not in alignment with the spirit of this company."

Also in the post, Robb wrote, "On behalf of the Whole Foods Market Leadership Network ... we sincerely apologize that a section of our handbook regarding team member interactions in the workplace was not clearly written, and for any misunderstandings or offense it has created. Its intention was to foster inclusion, not exclusion."

Sure enough, part of the old policy dictated that English-speaking workers must speak English to customers and other employees while on the clock, unless "all present prefer to speak a language other than English."

...and in with the new
By contrast, the respective sections of the new policy state:

If you speak English and you need to communicate with an English-speaking customer, please speak with them in English, unless requested otherwise by the customer.

When speaking with customers or fellow Team Members, please make sure you are sensitive to others who may want to join in your conversation or ask you a question. If needed, switch to a common language to be inclusive and respectful.

What's more, similar to the old policy, employees who don't understand English are asked to inform a "Team Leader so that communications may be translated" for them.

Finally, Robb noted that Whole Foods has sent the revised policy to both the New Mexico LULAC and the American Civil Liberties Union for their feedback, and intends to "continue [having] conversations with these organizations."

Foolish final thoughts
Seems fair enough; after all, while Whole Foods' original policy certainly didn't take a hard line to demand all employees speak English at all times, the company did quickly realize that the words could be misconstrued, and revised them to reflect that what they say is the true spirit of the policy.

What's more, it also seems fair to give Whole Foods the benefit of the doubt considering it's one of only 13 companies to appear on Fortune magazine's "100 Best Companies to Work For" every year since the list's inception in 1998. In addition, you can bet it's in Whole Foods' best interest to maintain fair diversity policies, considering it also regularly appears on Fortune's "Most Diverse" list, with its workforce made up of 44% women and 43% minorities.

But what do you think? Did Whole Foods management do the right thing here, or was their reaction less than sincere? Feel free to chime in using the comments section below.

It's hard to believe that a grocery store could book investors more than 30 times their initial investment, but that's just what Whole Foods has done for those who saw the organic trend coming some 20 years ago. However, it may not be too late to participate in the long-term growth of this organic foods powerhouse. In this premium report on the company, we walk through the key must-know items for every Whole Foods investor, including the main opportunities and threats facing the company. So make sure to claim your copy today by clicking here.


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