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Our Revised Team Member Language Guidelines

By Walter Robb, June 14, 2013  |  Meet the Blogger  |  More Posts by Walter Robb

Walter Robb,co-CEO, shares our Revised Team Member Language Guidelines on behalf of the Whole Foods Market Leadership Network.

I'd like to begin this post with two statements regarding the recent incident involving two of our team members in one of our Albuquerque, New Mexico stores.

First, we sincerely apologize that a section of our handbook regarding team member interactions in the workplace was not clearly written, and for any misunderstandings or offense it has created. Its intention was to foster inclusion, not exclusion.

Second, our senior leadership team has reviewed and changed the wording of this section and will ensure that this new wording and, more importantly, the intention behind it is reviewed and discussed at the next team member meeting at every store and facility throughout the company, which will be within 45 days time. The original as well as the revised guidelines in their entirety are included below for your reference.

Now, I would like to provide some additional information regarding this incident.

  1. I cannot disclose confidential personnel details regarding team members, but I can tell you that both team members involved received paid, one-day suspensions for their workplace behavior, not for speaking Spanish. I only make this statement after our team completed thorough interviews with the individuals involved as well as others present during and after the incident at the store last month.
  1. This unfortunate incident has provided us the opportunity to review and revise language in our handbook which, while in place for years, does not reflect and is not in alignment with the spirit of this company, nor our track record of respect and appreciation for our team members over the past 33 years. We hope and believe our revised language unequivocally communicates our support for our team members to honor and celebrate their cultures by speaking the language they prefer, while also helping to ensure a safe, respectful and courteous work and shopping environment.
  1. Last week, we were contacted by LULAC - New Mexico, and we have sent them a copy of our original and revised language for their feedback. We were also contacted by the ACLU in New Mexico and are communicating with them. And, we have been contacted by ProgressNow New Mexico via Moveon.org members who delivered a petition asking us to change our language guidelines. We will continue to have conversations with these organizations.

In closing, I want to say that even though we have now made what we believe to be the appropriate changes in the wording of these guidelines as noted, we will remain open to further changes as we continue to seek third-party perspectives.

Thank you for taking the time to read this.


Understanding Each Other

(Team Member handbook wording Revised June 2013)

Whole Foods Market has locations in metropolitan areas with diverse populations, which is proudly reflected in our stores by our customers and our Team Members. We celebrate diversity and the many cultures and languages it brings to the Whole Foods Market environment.

Speaking a variety of different languages at our stores and facilities can be positive in better serving our customers, but also can sometimes present challenges, especially when it comes to clear communications about safety and quality control, and also ensuring positive interactions among our customers and Team Members.

We are committed to making sure that our food is prepared according to the proper recipes, that our Team Members thoroughly understand and follow safety practices, and that we are courteous, respectful and inclusive among our customer and Team Member base, regardless of the languages spoken. The following in-store guidelines will ensure we make good on this commitment:

  •  If you speak English and you need to communicate with an English-speaking customer, please speak with them in English, unless requested otherwise by the customer.
  • When speaking with customers or fellow Team Members, please make sure you are sensitive to others who may want to join your conversation or ask you a question. If needed, switch to a common language to be inclusive and respectful.
  • If you do not understand English adequately, please inform a Team Leader so that communications may be translated for you.

These guidelines are meant to help ensure safe, respectful, and courteous work environments. If they are not observed, the company reserves the right to take whatever corrective measures it feels are fair, equitable, and appropriate


Understanding Each Other

(Team Member handbook wording in place until June 2013)

Whole Foods Market has locations in some of the most diverse cities in the nation, and we reflect that diversity in our workforce. We take pride in our diversity, and we recognize that with this diversity comes the challenge of different languages that are spoken by both our Team Members and customers. This challenge takes a number of forms: safety, quality control and promoting harmony among Team Members and customers. For example, we all want to be sure that our food is prepared according to the proper recipes, that cleaning products are handled safely, and that our customers (and fellow Team Members) don’t wonder if they are the “butt of the joke” when a group is laughing nearby at something said in a language they don’t understand. Misunderstandings and hurt feelings may result if people feel excluded when others speak in a language they don’t understand in front of them. With these challenges in mind, it is essential that we abide by the following guidelines:

  • If you speak English and are in the presence of customers, it is essential that the conversation be in English.
  • If you speak English and are in the presence of Team Members, it is essential that the conversation be in English any time you are on the clock and discussing work-related tasks or subjects. Remember to treat your co-workers with the same respect you would extend a customer.

These rules shall not apply to conversations among Team Members or with customers if all present prefer to speak a language other than English. You are free to speak any language during your breaks, meal periods and before and after work. If you do not speak English, please inform a Team Leader so that all work-related communications may be translated into a language you understand to ensure a safe and productive work environment. Clear communication is essential to a safe and efficient work environment. We can better ensure customer safety, food safety and consistent quality when we ensure that all Team Members understand one another and the instruction they are given.

As with any other company policy, if these guidelines are not observed, the company reserves the right to take whatever corrective measures it feels are appropriate.



Category: Company Info




Diana Wiley says ...
So. Do your responses mean that these employees are fired or not? We Liberals/Progressives do not tolerate bigotry. And if these people were fired, was there another reason? Pls respond as I do not intend to patronize your stores unless I am assured that you do not practice bigotry.
06/14/2013 5:47:14 PM CDT
Ann V Quinlan says ...
Thank you for the time and effort you, WFM, have taken to revisit and insure a fair and equitable workplace environment for all people, regardless of language of origin. If you have ever traveled to a country where you did not know the language I am sure your were grateful to be accepted and assisted as you figured things out. We are all figuring things out, regardless of our origins or fear of "fitting in" I am sure your staff and team leaders will breathe a lot easier now that WFM has leaped over what could have become a major stumbling block in reaching its goals as a leader in the field of wholistic delivery. Being wholistic is not just about food!
06/14/2013 6:07:53 PM CDT
Nikki - Community Moderator says ...
@DIANA - Walter mentioned in the post, "both Team Members involved received paid, one-day suspensions for their workplace behavior, not for speaking Spanish. I only make this statement after our team completed thorough interviews with the individuals involved as well as others present during and after the incident at the store last month."
06/14/2013 7:10:24 PM CDT
Kristi Speed says ...
Thank you! You folks are great and I will make it a point to use your store for my healthy purchases. You did a great thing.
06/14/2013 8:08:34 PM CDT
Chaya says ...
Thank you for changing your policy! I'm impressed.
06/14/2013 10:01:12 PM CDT
Robert Villarreal says ...
Si comprende your store sucks don't forget to tell your staff about your comunist way of taking freedom away what is going on with this country pretty soon not having blue eyes will be aganist the rules I hope your store goes bankrupt
06/14/2013 10:52:18 PM CDT
Jerry Smotherman says ...
Looks strangely like your explanation of their "2 day suspension" is only damage control. and spin city. How about just a simple, but honest and real explanation of what really happened. This looks more like just another cover up of corporate insensitivity and prejudice.
06/15/2013 2:23:20 AM CDT
Beverly Garcia says ...
Thank you WF for considerably improving your policy. I was hoping for an acknowledgement, maybe even an apology, about the insensitive and discriminatory policy that was in place and was the cause of this mess in the first place. Without more detail, I can only speculate that the suspension action taken against the employees was because their reactions to the discriminatory policy were UNDERSTANDABLY emotional and angry. While their reactions may have "crossed the line," we must keep in mind that WF is responsible for drawing the line of fire that was bound to erupt. It was only a matter of time. Maybe some cultural sensitivity training AND English-speaking lessons could be added to WF employee-training program. I shop at WF a lot and it has bothered me to see only one Hispano male checker in your main Cerrillos store in all these years and only two Hispanic female clerks (sometimes). The other WF at corner of Cordova-St Francis has proportionately more Hispanics in front positions. My family and our friends haven't shopped at WF since this started. I may return, but I'm not ready yet. The issue of being stopped from speaking our language runs deep for me. There are many family wounds and stories about this . --Beverly Garcia
06/15/2013 9:26:30 AM CDT
Kirk Stevens says ...
May I ask what the problem is with a common language for a nation ? English is the language that binds us If I walk into a store and ask a staff member for help and they are chatting in their own language its like a private party What on earth are they talking about ? Its rude. Shame on political correctness and shame on Whole Foods for giving way to the pressure Stand up for your rights not to be pushed around for small shake down self centered special interest groups
06/15/2013 11:16:11 AM CDT
Jenia Walter says ...
I'm so glad to hear you have changed your policy. I spend hundreds of dollars at Whole Foods each month here in Fort Collins, CO and was grumpy but committed to finding the local coop and shopping there instead. I was also drafting a letter to the editor in my head. Thank you for saving me the trouble. I will be back to shop today! --Jenia Walter
06/15/2013 11:19:38 AM CDT
craigers says ...
to whom it may concern: As an American citizen, I am beyond perplexed as to your decision to allowing those of Hispanic decent to continue to speak in their native language while in the employ of whole foods. I am a Chef who, upon graduating, chose to move to France to continue my training. I took it upon myself to take courses in the French language as it was deemed appropriate to converse with other French speaking individuals. Also, it was out of respect for the culture of France .. Sadly, we in america are basically "bowing down" to those who choose to come to our country by way of Spanish speaking countries. The way I see it, your newly revised policy is opening a very nasty can of worms. Its not uncommon for a bilingual person to switch a language when someone else walks by(co worker etc)so as to not include that person in a conversation. Your policy states that should that person wish to engage in conversation, the initial party will revert to the English language. Really? Do let me know how that works for you......... Sadly, for this reason(policy change)I am not now nor ever applying for any position in the Whole Foods Corporation. Instead of allowing segregation(which really is what you are doing), perhaps you should have looked into offering paid language classes for those who cannot speak English. So much for Hispanics assimilating into OUR culture......
06/15/2013 11:43:20 AM CDT
Joyce says ...
I am disappointed in Whole Foods caving into the "progressives" - This country was built on unification - like in "United States" - and the common language of English would make us better in the "united" department - but instead we beckon to the politically correct and "divided we fall"......
06/15/2013 12:02:37 PM CDT
Pam Brown says ...
Only English should be spoken in the presence of customers unless a customer requests assistance from someone speaking another language. Please keep it that way for the comfort, convenience, and safety of your patrons.
06/15/2013 12:28:22 PM CDT
Nate Serlin says ...
Employees speaking a foreign language in front of customers is bad. I as a customer speak only americian-English , sometimes I believe they are talking about ME. I have a disability, and sometimes use a cane. LET THEM Go into the back, or break room, to talk to themselves.
06/15/2013 4:22:30 PM CDT
JIM C says ...
Nothing like buckling under pressure. I disagree with your decision to change your policy and as long as this "updated" policy is in place I will not be placing my feet in your stores. For the folks that want to speak any language other than English be my guest, but not at the workplace. Whatever you do away from the workplace is your business as long as you're not harming anyone. I cannot believe how corporations have had to change in order to facilitate individuals who do not speak or understand English. They have to offer multiple languages for their policies, brochures, invoicing, etc. I have no problem with individuals from other countries coming to the USA, however the English language needs to be learned and understood prior to allowing people to come to the US to live.
06/16/2013 6:12:23 AM CDT
eric says ...
06/16/2013 7:59:57 AM CDT
ERIC says ...
06/16/2013 8:11:12 AM CDT
Mr. Downey says ...
I commend your policy supporting speaking English as the default whenever in the presence of customers (unless they speak in a different language FIRST). I absolutely DO feel excluded when I am in any establishment and hear employees speaking another language. It is proper etiquette to speak in a language that any 'guest' understands. Just because someone does not understand proper etiquette DOES NOT EXCUSE their behavior. I shop at Whole Foods all over the western U.S. as I have customers in 13 western states and travel and live. I own homes in the S.F. Bay Area and in Southern California and in Corona, New Mexico. I appreciate your store greatly and DO NOT WISH it to be degraded by improper behavior. Thank you for allowing me to express my opinion. Mr. Rick Downey Corona, N.M.
06/16/2013 9:32:43 AM CDT
Oliver Fischer-Samano says ...
First I applaud you for reacting quickly on mine and other customers and co-signers. However I find it disturbing how you describe your old language as a missunderstanding. I credit you for publishing both versions as it shows that you are sencire in your effort to correct a wrong. But this should be followed by a suspension of the HR person in charge of this policy language as this is clearly a xenophobe if not racist policy and as you have proven and stated not in line with the philosophy and history of Whole Foods. If needed I would also fire outside council if they were I solved as this clearly damaged you companies reputation. Regardless of my criticism I again laude you for your action and look forward to continue to be a loyal customer.
06/16/2013 10:30:23 AM CDT
Jim says ...
Great talking points - sounds like the Benghazi talking points. Walter is a one of the very few genuine gentlemen this company ever produced and he means well; though much more needs to be done especially at regional and store levels. The language issue is just a tip of an ice berg.
06/16/2013 11:13:18 AM CDT
norm says ...
There seems to be great misunderstanding, judging from the comments here and from sites like HuffPo, among people on both sides of the issue. Whole Foods did NOT change its policy. It was ALWAYS inclusionary, allowing any groups to speak their desired language as long as there was full consent by ALL participants. The policy merely stated that English would be the default language and take priority in any situation UNLESS another language was preferred by all those present. Nothing could be more fair. All Whole Foods has done is to re-state this policy more clearly. There is no reason for ANYONE to object to this policy, either before or after the rewite (because the policy is essentially unchanged). The only objection should lie with the clarity of the policy as formerly described in THE PAST, which required a full reading and was easily misunderstood if any wording was taken out of context. I hope this helps clear the issue up, and gives people cause to consider there is no reason to boycott WF from either of the perspectives that are widely reflected in the comments.
06/17/2013 11:03:21 AM CDT
Leandro Seoane says ...
It is a shame how damaging the media can be, and how inpartial and not objective.I saw something on youtube about this case, an they were taking wahtever little info. they had as the facts. It is great that something greater has come out out of this. There is always room for improvement., beyond company ethics and business. The main thing is the human relationships. This help us all become better human beings. This is making a better world, not only because we undertand each other's languages, but we can communicate from our hearts.
06/17/2013 12:06:21 PM CDT
Leandro Seoane says ...
Sadden by so much hate on some comments below. But those who hate, are just in fear, that is all. Deep inside they are wonderful. I am proud to have come from Cuba at the age of 16, learned English, and in these 33 years (the same year WFM opened its doors I have also learned Italian and Portuguese, and I am proud of being multilingual.
06/17/2013 12:18:43 PM CDT
Al Carter says ...
This is the USA. I believe one language should be spoken here, and that is English. I have been in too many stores that allow other languages. Those other stores that allowed other languages, when I asked a question, they where annoyed to speak English, or did not want to, they would attempt English with hand and head movements, and sometimes a grin on there face as if I was stupid and did not speak Spanish. I have been told by many Mexicans that California and Texas belong to them, and one day they would take back those states and make them part of Mexico. I feel we should take the Baja peninsular and claim the tip of the Southern peninsular of California as the USA. I hope English is the main language forever.. What is fair, this is the USA not Mexico. What happens when all the other languages on earth want their language spoke here. We are the USA, and need to keep one national language. One day our country will break apart along the lines that the main Language spoken there. Stand up for our National Language. When visiting are working in a foreign country, learn the native language. Don't back down, if not, start making all languages available including Navajo, Cherokee, Bailie. English should be required to be the only language spoken here. I would want to check the I-9 status of all non English speakers and deport non citizens. Thank you for your time. English fin the USA only. Go America!
06/17/2013 2:36:12 PM CDT
Mark says ...
WF, get with the program! This country needs to have one common language, at the very least, to do business. I have NO interest in spending my money in your store if English is considered a second rate business-use language. I have spent much time in Europe and I do my best to speak the local language and I am not good at all but I try. And they appreciate it! Why do you insist on giving any other language a priority to English when you conduct your business in America. What's next? You going to start accepting drachmas for currency? What a ridiculous slap-in-the-face.
06/17/2013 10:11:18 PM CDT