Woman banned from speaking Polish at work wins £5,000 payout

A woman who was banned from speaking her native language with colleagues has been awarded £5,000 in compensation by an employment tribunal.

Magdalena Konieczna was subjected to racial harrassment at Whitelink Seafoods in Aberdeen after she spoke to Polish staff – who could not speak English – in their native tongue. Her manager described Poles as “f***ing Poles” and the “f***ing Polish” in her presence.

Ms Konieczna, the HR and payroll administrator at the company as well as all foreign employees, were told to speak English while at work, despite the fact many could not. This meant Ms Konieczna found herself speaking English to her colleagues even though they did not understand a word she was saying.

Whitelaw argued the rule was brought in for health and safety reasons but employment judge Nicol Hosie said it was “more likely to create a greater health and safety risk than reduce it”.

As such, he awarded Ms Konieczna £5,942 for racial harassment.

The tribunal heard the issues began in March 2014 after Ms Konieczna’s colleague, HR manager Valerie Ritchie, overheard a call from a job applicant who only spoke Russian.

She said to Ms Ms Konieczna: “From now on we need to employ people who only speak English.”

A month later, Ms Ritchie made it a rule that staff were only to speak English at work, which workers believed included break times.

In a written judgment, the tribunal states: “The respondent may not have intended the rule to apply at break times, but that was what the Polish employees believed and any confusion in that regard was due to a failure on the part of the respondent to communicate clearly the terms of the rule, why it was being introduced and how and where it was to be applied.”

The judgment adds: “It was natural for the Ms Konieczna to speak Polish to non-English speaking Polish workers in the factory, but after the rule was introduced she had to speak English to all the Polish employees whatever their level of ability to speak English.

“She often found it difficult to apply the rule as it was not practical to do so, especially when she was speaking to a Polish employee who could not speak English and who instinctively would speak Polish to her.”

In one instance Ms Konieczna interviewed a job applicant who could only speak Polish. The applicant had to bring her friend with her to translate because the rule prevented Ms Konieczna from speaking to her in Polish – a situation she described as “comical” and “not time effective”.

Factory manager William Bruce often referred to the “f***ing Polish” in her company while one manager would shout “English” at her aggressively as he walked by.

The tribunal rejected Ms Konieczna’s claim she suffered racial discrimination.