Our Revised Team Member Language Guidelines

By Walter Robb, June 27, 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




iplaza says ...
As an English - Spanish speaker, at home we try to keep our mother language just for educational purpose (bi-lingual means more future opportunities), however my kids (US born) understood since ever that we are in the USA and in public we shall show respect to those around us that doesn't speak Spanish and for any reason are listening to us in a public space. I applaud your policies and as avid customer and provider of goods for WFM is the right thing to do. Everyone have to understand that. Shame on whoever try to take advantage of this incidents and use others voice to claim stupid issues. Well done Whole Foods!!!
08/09/2013 11:54:42 AM CDT
Barry Chapman says ...
I don't see anything wrong with the original version. It is a very common sense guideline. If anybody had a problem understanding the guideline, I think they really had a problem of the heart!
08/28/2013 7:43:42 PM CDT
Mr. Anonymous says ...
Hello Mr. Robb, As a recent employee at the Whole Foods Market, Fort Lauderdale, Fl, I have experienced a tremendous amount of difficulty understanding my team members in my department. The majority of them are of Haitian decent and thus speak Creole. With all due respect, I am aware that it may be easier for them to communicate in their native language, it is hindering the overall effectiveness of our department, where everyone must speak English, as stated, "on the clock". Please send a memo to all the department team leaders to reinforce this. Our store has been under renovations, and this important policy seems to be "slipping through the cracks". I Thank You. Mr. A.
09/11/2013 7:31:17 AM CDT
Jon says ...
Thank you for the much-needed clarification. Like so many newcomers to this country, I was proud to be able to learn English well enough to shop and do business here. I am dismayed when people try to speak to me in non-English when I am in a public place. To me it (speaking non-English at work or a place of business) feels just as rude as people at a meeting who talk only to their friends and who don't introduce and include the newcomers in their conversation.. Ditto for people who chat with their friends throughout a presentation or show.
03/12/2014 10:15:23 PM CDT
Pomi says ...
I remember when the original print came out in the "Gig" book, and thinking " oh oh, this sounds like an ACLU, complaint. I also remember someone being written up at the Miller store for speaking Spanish. it's unfortunate, it waited this long for an incident to happen, before changing, but I am pleased that it now includes an all inclusive message and what was really meant.
07/04/2014 3:23:09 PM CDT