The Immigration Act creates a duty to ensure that all public authority staff working in customer-facing roles speak fluent English or Welsh to an appropriate standard – the ‘fluency duty’. Public authorities affected by this include state-funded schools. The intended introduction of this new provision is Autumn 2016.
The Government has drafted a Code of Practice to help employers decide how to comply with the new requirement, and that common sense is used in the approach.
Customer facing roles
Below are some of the considerations employers should have when determining whether a worker has a customer facing role:
• Is there a business need for interaction with the public;
• What is the frequency and form of this interaction;
• What is the level of service quality and responsiveness expected by the public
Setting the standard
Setting the necessary standard of English or Welsh will depend on the type of customer facing role. Public authorities must consider the nature and the extent of the spoken communication which is necessary for effective performance. The following are some of the factors which may be considered:
• Frequency of spoken interaction
• Topic of spoken interaction
• Whether the communication is likely to include technical, profession-specific or specialist vocabulary
Failure to meet the standards
Staff in customer-facing roles who cannot demonstrate the necessary standard of spoken English or Welsh fluency should be supported by training, or re-training, provided by the employer where they are given a reasonable period to reach the necessary standard. If the member of staff does meet the standard, and cannot reach this with training, then education establishments may need to consider making adjustments to the role such as reducing the frequency of spoken communication with customers or moving the individual to a non-customer-facing role.
As a last resort, the education establishment can consider dismissal on the basis that the individual is not fulfilling their duties so long as they have had a reasonable opportunity to meet the necessary standard and all reasonable alternatives have been investigated.
More information on the draft Code of Practice is available from the Advice Service.