Poor Performance – but English is not the first language?

Employing people from different backgrounds and with different experiences can help to achieve a more diverse workforce and can positively influence organisational culture. It is important that colleagues understand the need to treat other employees with dignity and respect and to be aware of standards and expectations regarding behaviour and language.

A lack of understanding of English or a failure to explain expectations to an employee who only speaks limited English can lead to allegations of poor performance or an unwitting failure to comply with policies and procedures.

Where English is not the first language, an allegation of poor performance may occur due to misunderstandings as to what is expected, or confusion regarding written or verbal instructions.

In this situation, the first step would be to meet with the employee and discuss the areas of concern. Do they have a job description, is it up to date and accurate? Do they understand what is expected? Are the duties expected, realistic or do they need to be reviewed? Whilst this may be straightforward for English-speaking employees, it can be more difficult for someone whose first language is not English and employers must consider how best to explain the duties and standards expected.

In any situation, if there’s a breakdown in communication because of a language barrier, there are steps that can be taken:

  • Are there any other employees within the business who speak both languages? Could one of them assist with translations and explanations? Does the employee have a friend or relative who could attend the meeting to help with translation?
  • Could the employee shadow a more experienced employee so that they are shown practically what’s expected rather than informed verbally?
  • Are there any training resources available for the employee to watch that demonstrate the required skills?

It is common to involve interpreters in any disciplinary or grievance situations if the worker’s grasp of the English language is not fluent and this would be seen as forming part of a fair procedure. Always follow a fair and consistent procedure when dealing with your employees, whatever their background. Don’t assume that someone can’t do the job because English is not the first language. Employers should offer help and support and try to think of practical ways around the situation.

If you have any concerns about this subject contact us at enquiries@121hrsolutions.co.uk and we can discuss.

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