Several employees at a Florida Department of Health clinic in Haines City have accused their employer of forbidding them from speaking Spanish at work, Bay News 9 reports.
The seven employees, all of whom are female and Puerto Rican, claim that management has been harassing them for more than a year over their decision to speak the second-most spoken language in the U.S.
"It feels like you’re a criminal, like you’re doing something that is wrong," said Mairyli Miranda, a nurse at the clinic.
More than 40 percent of the residents in Haines City are Hispanic, according to City-Data.com. The women, who are all bilingual, say that's part of the reason why they were hired in the first place.
"We’re very respectful and we take into account when someone’s in the room or near us that doesn’t speak our language," said Maria Rivera, a clerk at the office. "We speak their language out of courtesy. It’s just a right."
Since the controversy became public, activist groups, including Alianza for Progress and La Mesa Boricua de Florida, have stepped in to fight for the women's rights to speak Spanish. The women have also filed a complaint with the Polk County Health Department but say they have not received a response yet.
"We just want someone who can be a good leader, you know?" said Laura Rivera, another nurse at the clinic. "Because if you can’t work with different cultures, I think you’re not a good person to be a leader."
According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, English-only rules may violate federal laws unless they are "justified by business necessity."