Two employees at a Whole Foods Market store in Albuquerque, N.M., say they were suspended last month after complaining about being told they couldn't speak Spanish to each other while on the job, according to an Associated Press report published on the La Cruces Sun-News website.
A spokesperson called the stituation a misunderstanding, saying the pair were suspended for poor behavior.
Language rules, however, do exist at Whole Foods.
Ben Friedland, Whole Foods Market Rocky Mountain Region Executive Marketing Coordinator, said the Austin, Texas-based company believes in "having a uniform form of communication" for a safe working environment.
"Therefore, our policy states that all English speaking Team Members must speak English to customers and other Team Members while on the clock," Friedland said in a statement. "Team Members are free to speak any language they would like during their breaks, meal periods and before and after work."
Friedland said the policy doesn't prevent employees from speaking Spanish to customers who don't speak English, nor does it prevent them from speaking Spanish if all "parties present agree that a different language is their preferred form of communication."
ProgressNow New Mexico has called for a boycott of Whole Foods and launched an online petition against the policy.
"Whole Foods Market's commitment to organic and natural foods has made it a national leader in responsible food choice, but their policies prohibiting employees from speaking their own language or organizing to overturn these anti-diversity policies directly contradict their commitment to 'team member excellence and happiness,'" says Pat Davis, Executive Director of ProgressNow New Mexico, a progressive advocacy organization based in Albuquerque.