High risk of litigation. LEP workers with an inadequate grasp of safety or food prep protocols open restaurants and food service outlets to a higher incidence of lawsuits. A Chili’s Grill & Bar, Charlotte, N.C., was cited by the county health department when an employee was unable to explain proper healthy policy, while a man brought a suit against an Oregon steakhouse after going into anaphylactic shock after his food order was prepared incorrectly.
Jeopardizing other employees. LEP workers who don’t have a clear comprehension of evolving safety guidelines, store policies, and job protocols put fellow employees at a higher risk for injury.
Increased safety risk to themselves. Trends show a disturbing rise in problems for LEP workers. A 2016 report from the Food Chain Workers Alliance and Solidarity Research Cooperative found that “non-fatal rates of injury and illness in food production jumped from 4.6 cases per hundred workers in 2010 to 5.5 in 2014.”
Increased workplace fatality rate. SafetySkills, a safety training company, found that “Hispanic and Latino workers have the highest workplace fatality rate of any group, nearly 50 percent higher than the overall rate…largely attributed to language barriers…”
Major impediment to food safety. One report from Journal of Extension estimates that “59 percent of the foodborne illnesses originate from retail food service establishments.” LEP workers only compound the problem.
Solo Not the Solution
Since LEP workers play such an integral role within food service, each of the consequences outlined above can greatly jeopardize the productivity and profitability of the industry. It’s crucial for managers and operators to come to the table with proactive solutions before these risks become a reality and threaten the future of the establishment. Many LEP workers want to improve their language skills, and as many as 31 percent have noted the desire to participate in learning opportunities but have not been able to according to the National Skills Coalition, and learning on their own tends to be a challenge due to obstacles they face. This is where managers and operators need to come in and offer language training for their employees to solve the existing skills gap and better protect their customers, workers, and overall business.
Common obstacles that LEP workers face with language training on their own include the following.
Lack of financial resources. The unpredictability of income earned by LEP workers in the food service sector and scant monetary assets create a major impediment. An analysis by the National Skills Coalition found that a whopping 84 percent of service sector workers enrolled in formal degree or certificate programs received no financial support from their employers.
Lack of time. LEP workers are squeezed for time, perhaps more than other classes of workers. Child care and family responsibilities consume a big chunk of whatever “free” time workers have, according to the National Skills Coalition.
Inconveniently scheduled programs. The time and location of adult education classes were often incompatible with the work schedules of LEP workers, according to a Brookings Institution report.
Long waiting lists. Adult education classes historically have had lengthy waiting lists for registration, but the situation seems to have gotten worse. For example, Los Angeles had a waiting list of 16,000 people for adult education classes in 2016, “especially the English as a Second Language programs.”
A Good Investment
In order for LEP workers to improve their English language skills most effectively, their employers must play a role. However, not only will employers be enhancing the abilities of their staff by implementing onsite language learning, they’ll also be ensuring the future success of their establishments.
By investing in language training programs for employees, managers, and operators would gain substantial advantages across their businesses and beyond, including the following.