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Whole Foods Revises Language-Use Rules

AUSTIN, Texas — Whole Foods Market here said Friday it has revised the wording in its employee handbook to eliminate "any misunderstandings or offense" created by a rule that only English should be spoken by employees in its stores.

Walter Robb, co-chief executive officer, said he apologized that the section of the handbook was not clearly written.

"[The] intention was to foster inclusion, not exclusion," he said in his online blog. "We have changed the wording of this section and will ensure that the new wording and, more importantly, the intention behind it is reviewed and discussed at all stores and facility meetings."


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Robb said those discussions would be held within 45 days.

The revised wording reads: "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 your conversation or ask you a question. If needed, switch to a common language to be inclusive and respectful."

The original wording read: "If you speak English and are in the presence of customers, it is essential the conversation be in English. If you speak English and are in the presence of team members, it is essential the conversation be in English any time you are on the clock and discussing work-related tasks."

The change in wording was made after activists from delivered a petition to the chain's main offices here with 15,000 signatures, demanding the company end its policy of requiring employees to use English only in the stores.  

Read more: Whole Foods Imagines Produce Dept. Without Bees

The petition was started in New Mexico by a group that said two employees at a Whole Foods in Albuquerque were suspended after complaining to their store manager about a reprimand they had received for speaking Spanish to each other while on the job.

Robb said the employees had received one-day suspensions "for their workplace behavior, not for speaking Spanish." He did not elaborate.

He also said the "unfortunate incident" in New Mexico "provided us the opportunity to review and revise language in our handbook [that] does not reflect and is not in alignment with the spirit of this company. We hope and believe our revised language unequivocally communicates our support for our team members to honor and celebrate their cultures by speaking the language they prefer."

He said Whole Foods remains open "to further changes as we continue to seek third-party perspectives."

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