Successfully Employing the Hispanic Workforce

By Jacob M. Monty

In legally representing employers with large Hispanic workforces, many of the errors I have seen have been perpetrated by good-hearted employers who did not acknowledge the unique background features, social norms and histories of their Latino workers. The right knowledge helps employers recruit and hire Hispanic employees efficiently; treat Hispanic employees appropriately; maintain their workforce; prevent costly mistakes; remain in compliance with regulations; and obtain a competitive advantage.

In 2017, the growth in the Hispanic population in the United States reached 58.9 million, constituting 18.1 percent of the total population. Hispanic workers make up approximately 17 percent of the 150 million U.S. employees. That number skyrockets when it comes to construction-related industry, where nearly 30 percent of workers are Hispanic. Hiring Hispanic employees can give businesses competitive advantages beyond their hardworking work ethic. However, the differences in culture and language present significant barriers. If these barriers are not adequately addressed, employers can expect persistent problems with safety, quality and productivity, which could negatively affect any other competitive advantage.

Cultural Factors

Employers should note that “Hispanic” is not a race, but an ethnic distinction, referring to a person or descendant of a family from a Spanish-speaking culture. Hispanics share a common language, but their cultures, values and beliefs are unique. To assume all Hispanic cultures are the same, or lumping them all into one demographic, is a critical mistake. Notably, this workforce group places a high value on family and culture, and they have a strong desire for self-improvement.

As such, these values should be considered foundational points when a company is developing its recruitment and retention strategies. Understanding the varied Hispanic cultures and labor laws helps employers capitalize on the great value these employees can bring to the workplace. The differences are important and need not be divisive.

According to latpro.com, employers can inform themselves about Hispanic workers’ cultural preferences, as they pertain to:

Degree of intimacy — Many Hispanics want to establish a personal connection, including a close relationship with co-workers.

Social harmony — Hispanic employees generally do not like to rock the boat and have a need to maintain smooth and pleasant relationships.

Personal contact — In social situations, Hispanics find physical contact with others quite normal.

Respect for authority — Hispanic employees tend to treat those in positions of authority with a great deal of respect.

Employers should use universally common ground to unite a diverse workforce. Language, music, style and cultural practices are the currencies with which people define their identities and establish social capital. Something as simple as sharing a meal with Hispanic employees is a big deal.

Communication Is Key

Language barriers pose a significant legal risk for employers and safety risks for employees if not remedied. For employees who likely learned English as their second language, it may be difficult to understand safety instructions being given if instructions are given only in English. Employers may want to consider asking employees about their language preferences and have important communications translated into Spanish, if necessary.

Additionally, English-only policies could get an employer sued for discrimination and soil its reputation. In September 2018, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed suit against a resort in San Antonio for discrimination and retaliation. Court documents stated, among other complaints, that at least two dozen Spanish speakers were barred from speaking Spanish, while employees of other nationalities were allowed to speak their native languages. When workers complained about the discriminatory behavior, they were punished.

Maintaining Compliance

Federal and state laws require employers to post certain notices to employees in both English and Spanish. Government-issued and other official employment notices are the first things an investigator will verify when conducting an on-site workplace investigation.

Here are a few things to consider when deciding whether your company’s written material must be available in Spanish:

■ Does federal or state law require written communication to be in Spanish? Some administrative agencies, such as the Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division and OSHA, require certain communications and training documents be made available to employees in the language the employee understands best.

 ■ Non-mandatory translation into Spanish typically involves handbooks and other directives to employees. Putting these company materials in Spanish demonstrates that the employer made an honest effort to help workers, who do not primarily speak English, understand.

Preparation and Planning Ahead

Employers can attract and retain a strong Hispanic workforce by making an effort to:

■ Understand and value the cultures of all employees

■ Present solid opportunities for advancement

■ Provide training and employee resources in English and Spanish

■ Offer competitive salaries and benefits Employers can remain in compliance with federal and state laws by incorporating a few of the following strategies concerning their Hispanic workforce:

■ Learning about these laws regarding employment notices and communication

■ Training management to ensure compliance with anti-discrimination and harassment laws

■ Having an audit protocol in place

■ Making copies of all I-9s and crucial documents

■ Developing an immigration-compliance plan Following these strategies will help to successfully employ Hispanic workers to the benefit of all.

About the Author

 Jacob M. Monty is founder and managing partner of the Houston, Texas-based employment, labor, and immigration law firm, Monty & Ramirez LLP. With more than 20 years of experience providing representation and counsel to employers, Monty is board certified and leads a diverse team of attorneys that represent a broad array of clients, including Fortune 500 corporations, private businesses (small and large), and government entities. He serves on various local, state and national advisory councils, and is a regular commentator on issues pertaining to immigration and employment law in national media. For the past 10 consecutive years, Monty has been named a Texas Super Lawyer by Super Lawyers Magazine. He can be reached at (281) 493-5529 or [email protected]