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Patrick, Esq.
Patrick, Esq., Lawyer
Category: California Employment Law
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Experience:  Significant experience in all areas of employment law.
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I own a small business. I have only three employees. One

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I own a small business. I have only three employees. One of my employees speaks only Spanish and I do not. I have one other employee that speaks Spanish and acts as an interpreter. Because of the nature of the work, my Spanish speaking employee cannot be at work when the interpreter is gone for illness or for vacation. When the interpreter leaves for any reason it puts a hardship on my business because no production work can be accomplished when both are gone. My customers expect rapid service and usually get it. Can I terminate the employee because of the hardship?
Hello and thank you for entrusting me to assist you, I will do everything I can to answer your question.

Absent an employment contract guaranteeing employment for a specified period of time, employment in the state of California is presumed to be "at will." More specifically, California Labor Code Section 2922 provides that: "employment, having no specified term, may be terminated at the will of either party on notice to the other." What this means is that an employer is free to terminate employees for any reason whatsoever, even a reason that is entirely unfair, unless the underlying motivation is discriminatory or otherwise in violation of California law.

Termination in California is "discriminatory" within the meaning of the law only if the basis for ending the employment relationship is a "protected trait." Protected traits under California law are race, religious creed, color, national origin, ancestry, physical disability, mental disability, medical condition, marital status, sex, age (over 40), or sexual orientation.

Although race and national origin are protected traits and you would be terminating an employee who is of Mexican descent, that would not make termination under the circumstances discriminatory because the basis for termination is an inability to speak adequate English--a skill which is a legitimate business necessity. Employers always retain the freedom to terminate employees for their lack of adequate language skills and here. The fact that an employee is a minority is incidental to that fact.

All of this is perhaps an overly long-winded way of saying that termination under the circumstances you describe is legal. Employers retain vast discretion to terminate their employees "at will," and while it is illegal to terminate employees on the basis of their race or national origin, it is not illegal to terminate an employee for lacking necessary language skills, even if that employee happens to be a minority.

An employer in this circumstance can terminate without any explanation, or can terminate with notice that the basis for termination is inaddquate language skills, which are necessary for the position. Termination should be in writing and the employee's final wages must be paid immediately. (Labor Code 201)

Please do not hesitate to let me know if you have any questions or concerns regarding the above and I will be more than happy to assist you further.

If you do not require any further assistance, I would be most grateful if you would remember to provide my service a positive rating, as this is the only way I will receive credit for assisting you.

Finally, please bear in mind that none of the above constitutes legal advice nor is any attorney client relationship created between us.

Very best wishes to you.
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