German Firm Bans Foreign Languages at Work

BERLIN — A German technology company in which Russians comprise more than one-third of the staff has banned the use of foreign languages in the workplace.

Witeg, a maker of laboratory technology based in the southwestern state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, employs 60 workers, including 21 Russians.

"This ruling in necessary because precise communication among workers is vital," managing director Elmar Swiegot said in a statement published Friday.

The decision had nothing to do with racism and was necessary for organizational reasons, he added. Anyone who broke the rule would be given a warning and dismissal would follow for persistent offenders.

Alexander Marterer, a German labor lawyer, said employers were theoretically allowed to create language policy for the workplace but that Witeg would probably be deemed to be infringing human rights if taken to court.

"Unless stated in the work contract, employees have the right to communicate internally in any language they want, providing it does not interfere with the efficiency of production," Marterer said.

The Baden-Wuerttemberg Economy Ministry said any ruling that discriminated against nonnative speakers of German was unacceptable.

"The ministry disagrees with the [Witeg] ruling but will not intervene. This is the responsibility of the workers," spokeswoman Christine Baisch said.