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New English language requirements for public sector workers

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On 21 November 2016, new requirements come into force, which require public sector workers in customer-facing roles to be sufficiently fluent in English language.  The new requirement follows publication of provisions of the Immigration Act 2016 and means that workers must be sufficiently fluent in English (or English or Welsh for those employed in Wales), to allow for the effective performance of their roles.

A ‘Code of Practice on English Language Requirements for Public Sector Workers’ has been published by the Government which provides guidance on the language requirements and how they can be met.  The Code suggests the standard required will be dependent on a number of factors; for example the nature of the role, whether there is a business need for interaction with the public, frequency and form of the interaction and level of service expected by the public.

Public-sector authorities will now need to ensure they have appropriate policies in place to incorporate and comply with the requirements, and the Code specifically stipulates that the language requirements should be set out clearly in Contracts of Employment.  The Code is not just applicable to employees, but also to agency staff and self-employed contractors used by public bodies in providing services that are customer-facing.

The Code indicates that public-sector employers must apply the language requirements strictly, but must ensure there is no discrimination, such as on the grounds of race, nationality, ethnic origin or disability.  This suggests that that workers must have a reasonable opportunity to fulfil the requirements, and as a last resort, a public authority could consider dismissal where a worker is incapable of meeting the expected standards and therefore are unable to perform their duties.

The requirements apply to public-sector employers which includes government departments, NHS bodies, state-funded schools, the police and armed forces and public corporations.  Voluntary and private-sector organisations, even where they provide public services, are not required to comply with the language requirements.

A copy of the Code of Practice can be accessed on the Government website and can be found by clicking on the following link: