As Sports Direct comes into the media spotlight once again, this time for allegedly banning employees from speaking to each other in any language but English, our Employment law Partner, Iestyn Morris, takes a look at the legal implications.
Sports Direct is no stranger to controversy. This latest example – banning staff from speaking any language but English in a store in Bangor – has, with good reason, generated a furious reaction over the weekend. In response, Hywel Williams MP called for Welsh Language Standards, which currently only apply in the public sector, to be extended to the private sector. Labelled by some MPs as ‘discriminatory’ in an area where a lot of people speak Welsh, the Welsh Language Commissioner has announced that it is investigating the matter. Interference with the ‘freedom to undertake a Welsh communication with another individual’ is already unlawful under the Welsh Language Measure 2011. As has been widely noted, however, the issue is not confined to Welsh. The ban on communications in any language other than English is potentially discriminatory under the Equality Act 2010. This type of ban also raises fundamental questions about an individual’s right to communicate under the Human Rights Act 1998.
An apparent ban on staff speaking any language but English in a Sports Direct store in Bangor is to be investigated by the Welsh language commissioner. It is understood a notice was posted on a wall telling staff to only speak English for health and safety reasons. The move has also drawn criticism from Plaid Cymru AM Sian Gwenllian who said it was "discriminatory" in an area where a lot of people speak Welsh. But the firm said there was no ban and it was looking into what had happened. The notice, which was printed on Sports Direct-headed paper, said it wanted to remind staff that English was the "official language of the company".