Picture the following scenario: You are the HR director at a concrete manufacturing company where the labor force (meaning your non-office personnel) comprises about 200 people, most of which are Spanish-dominant or Spanish-only speakers. You’re required to provide CDL (commercial drivers’ license) training and OSHA training (for safety) that involve questionnaires and tests. You might also offer some training on office safety procedures to avoid chronic work-related injuries. 

In addition, you probably have an employee manual that explains your policies about drug testing, safety guidelines, employee benefits and so on. Maybe your company has successfully lowered workers compensation insurance premiums by demonstrating that you have a lower rate of accidents, and you think that if you offered safety training in Spanish, you could lower them even more. 

Let’s also say that your director of safety does not speak Spanish. When that person conducts safety training for your crew, how does he do it? Are you forced to take the time to find a Spanish-speaking co-worker and take them away from their own job to interpret on the fly? What if that person is unfamiliar with the technicalities of the training, or mistranslates something critically important?

Translation is not a legal requirement …

As an employer, you are not required to provide in-language training. The federal government doesn’t require it, states don’t require it, and even the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) does not have a specific requirement that safely guidelines be translated. What OSHA does say is that employers are required to ensure that their employees understand the information that they need to know for their health and safety. In other words, if an employer has employees who speak languages other than English, the employer should provide translated versions of the information to those employees. So, while there is no legal requirement to provide manuals and training in Spanish (or any language, for that matter), it’s in your best interest to do so.

Lack of understanding of workplace guidelines can have a significant impact on productivity, revenue and even safety – particularly in occupations that are considered high-risk. According to OSHA, some 25% of workplace injuries are due to language barriers. And according to The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention accidents that resulted in death were 69% higher for limited-English Hispanics than for Hispanics fluent in English.

… but translation is in your best interest

Here’s why it benefits you as an employer to offer training and documents in Spanish:

  • It removes the burden from your bilingual employees who may not feel comfortable serving as on-the-spot interpreters, or may not want to. It’s not what they signed up for.
  • Employees should be able to expect that their employers will provide a modicum of safety and guidance, without having language get in the way.
  • A workforce that fully understands their rights, responsibilities, liabilities and how to remain safe in the workplace is critical for building a positive workplace culture. where all employees feel valued an appreciated. 
  • You gain the loyalty and respect of your non-English speakers by demonstrating sensitivity to their culture and their challenges with the English language.
  • You avoid potential liability. If an employee is injured because that person didn’t understand your safety procedures and they take you to court, you don’t have a strong defense if you didn’t help them understand those procedures.

In the current era of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI), ensuring language equity brings justice to the workplace. A culture of inclusion leads to a wider range of perspectives and ideas, which lead to better decision-making, problem-solving and innovation. There’s a higher level of employee engagement, satisfaction and retention when every employee feels valued. With translation, you can help your non-English speaking employees feel respected and valued, which will go a long way toward employee retention and building a model workplace where there is high productivity, a sense of camaraderie, and a positive work culture where everybody wants to come to work.