Latvian factory worker wins £10,000 payout for racism after bosses told her to speak English while working at Hull nut packaging plant
- Albina Sokolova started work for Humdinger Limited at their Hull factory in 2010
- In 2015 the company introduced a policy demanding English be spoken at work
- Mrs Sokolova was disciplined because she admitted speaking her native tongue
- She was refused a translator during meetings with the company’s bosses
- The tribunal ordered Humdinger Limited to pay £10,800 to Mrs Sokolova
A Latvian worker has won a £10,000 racism claim after her bosses told her she must speak English at work.
Albina Sokolova started working as a production operative for fruit and nut snack supplier Humdinger Limited at their Hull factory in 2010, shortly after moving to the UK, and stayed with the company for more than 10 years.
In 2015 the company introduced a new language policy which stated ‘English was to be spoken in the workplace’ and workers could only speak another language ‘during rest and lunch breaks’.
Mrs Sokolova was disciplined because she admitted speaking in her native tongue with other Eastern European workers, despite there being no complaints from colleagues or supervisors.
Mrs Sokolova, who is Latvian but also considers Russian a native language, ‘relied upon her daughter’ to translate at home – but was refused a translator during meetings with bosses.
She won her case after an employment tribunal in Hull ruled she was ‘disadvantaged’ by not being able to speak a native language in meetings, adding it was ‘not necessary’ for only English to be spoken.
The tribunal ordered Humdinger Limited to pay £10,800 to Mrs Sokolova for indirect race discrimination and injury to feelings.
Albina Sokolova was disciplined because she admitted speaking in her native tongue with other Eastern European workers, despite there being no complaints from colleagues or supervisors
The tribunal heard Mrs Sokolova discussed the policy during a meeting with bosses in February 2017 after a ‘letter of concern’ was issued by a supervisor, in which they ‘asked for improvements’ in her English.
Two and a half years later Mrs Sokolova requested leave for a ‘dental appointment’ in Latvia which was denied because she had ‘used up her holiday leave’ and ‘could not take unpaid leave’.
She cancelled the appointment – the last in a series of implant treatments – and attended work on the day the appointment had been due to take place, but was absent through sickness the next day.
Mrs Sokolova, who is Latvian but also considers Russian a native language, ‘relied upon her daughter’ to translate at home – but was refused a translator during meetings with bosses
She was invited to an interview about the unauthorised absence and requested for her daughter, who is ‘fluent in Latvian, Russian and English’ to attend and interpret for her.
The tribunal heard Mrs Sokolova ‘could get by on the factory floor’ with the English she had ‘picked up’, but that it was ‘not sufficiently sophisticated to manage discipline and grievance meetings’.
However, her request for an interpreter was flatly refused, putting her at a ‘particular disadvantage’.
In subsequent disciplinary and grievance meetings she ‘did not repeat’ the request but was sometimes accompanied by a colleague whose English was ‘not of the standard necessary’.
Mrs Sokolova later submitted several grievances with her employers, but was ‘not offered’ an interpreter until meetings held shortly before her dismissal in July 2020.
She was also disciplined for speaking with fellow foreign employees in her native tongue – despite there having been no recent complaints alluding to this.
The tribunal was told: ‘The impression portrayed… was that allegations had been made against the claimant about breaches of the effective communications policy. This was not the case.
‘[Mrs Sokolova] had asked to see any complaints but [did] not [receive] them (not surprisingly, because they did not exist).
Albina Sokolova started working as a production operative for fruit and nut snack supplier Humdinger Limited at their Hull factory in 2010, shortly after moving to the UK, and stayed with the company for more than 10 years
‘Apart from the letter of concern of 10 February 2017, there was no information that [her] behaviour in this regard had been an issue for her colleagues or supervisors.’
The tribunal was told: ‘[Mrs Sokolova] suggested when no English workers were in the vicinity, no real objection could be made to speaking other languages.
‘Without continued use of the same common language, the switching of one language to the other would run the risk of unintended lapses becoming commonplace.’
Whilst the tribunal found it was ‘reasonably necessary’ for the language policy to be implemented on the factory floor, it ruled grievance and disciplinary meetings required communication which was ‘full and comprehensive’.
It ruled using ‘only English’ in disciplinary and grievance meetings was ‘not justified’.
Employment Judge David Jones said: ‘This case demonstrated a procedurally flawed use of disciplinary procedures and unfairly targeted an employee who had raised a grievance.
‘These actions fell outside any reasonable and acceptable range of responses. For these reasons we find the dismissal to have been unfair.’
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