ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Whole Foods Market is reviewing its employee language policy after two of its Spanish-speaking workers in New Mexico said they were suspended after complaining about it, a company spokeswoman said Friday.
The Austin, Texas-based organic grocery chain is re-examining the policy "as we speak, and it will be the topic of ongoing conversations at an all-leadership conference next week," spokeswoman Libba Letton said in a statement.
Gov. Susana Martinez told The Associated Press she was happy the company is revisiting the policy because New Mexico has a history with Spanish and American Indian languages.
"I'm glad they are willing to re-evaluate that policy because I think every state is different," Martinez, a Republican and the nation's only Latina governor, said Friday after speaking to a constituent in Spanish.
The Spanish language "is part of the fabric of what makes New Mexico great," she said.
The move by Whole Foods Market Inc. comes after two employees at an Albuquerque store said this week they were suspended for a day after recently complaining about a company rule that they say forbids them from speaking Spanish to each other while on the job. Whole Foods officials say the two were suspended for "rude" behavior.
Ben Friedland, the company's Rocky Mountain region executive marketing coordinator, said the policy states that all English-speaking workers must speak English to customers and other employees while on the clock, unless the customer speaks another language.
"Team members are free to speak any language they would like during their breaks, meal periods and before and after work," Friedland said.
He said the policy doesn't prevent employees from speaking Spanish if all "parties present agree that a different language is their preferred form of communication."
News of the suspensions and the policy barring workers from speaking other languages while on the clock sparked outraged on social media and among advocates who started online petitions and called for the company to change the rule.
At a news conference outside the Albuquerque store where the employees were suspended, Ralph Arellanes, state director of the New Mexico League of United Latin American Citizens, said the company has a week to change the policy before advocates will launch a nationwide boycott of Whole Foods.
"I will give them a period of seven days to implement a new policy, which includes (dropping) this policy, or we will hold them accountable," Arellanes said Thursday.
Letton said Whole Foods will speak with various civil rights groups during the review of the policy.
"We are also in the process of reaching out to groups like LULAC to discuss the issue and hear their perspective," she said.
Follow Russell Contreras on Twitter at http://twitter.com/russcontreras