American hospitals can rightly expect nurses to speak comprehensible English.
American patients, however, shouldn't be surprised if their nurses speak with an accent. The U.S. is suffering through a severe nursing shortage and foreigners are filling the gap in droves.
Nursing is a choice career path (and potential path towards an American green card) for many men and women in middle-income countries such as the Philippines. Foreign-born nurses, according to figures quoted by Businessweek, now account for more than 16 percent of all registered nurses in the U.S.
In other words, foreign nurses walking U.S. hospital halls will increasingly bump into other staff members who share a native language other than English.
Can the hospital force these employees to speak English to one another at all times? In break rooms? On smoke breaks? Over lunch?
Probably not, according to a lawsuit's verdict in California.
A group of 70 Filipino nurses, according to a report in the Bakersfield Californian, will be awarded $975,000 after their hospital's management threatened penalties up to termination for speaking Tagalog (a native Philippine language) while clocked in.
The suit suggests management had it out for Filipinos and didn't crack down heavily on employed speakers of other languages: Spanish, Hindi and Bengali, according to the L.A. Times. The Bakersfield Californian, citing the plaintiff's attorney, reports that other staff were asked to "act as vigilantes, constantly berating and reprimanding Filipino-American employees" who spoke Tagalog.
Lesson for hospital administrators (at least in California): if American patients want to hear English while receiving care, as most of them do, you can reprimand nurses for speaking another tongue.
But you have to let them speak their native language in the canteen and the break room.