I worked in a 450 person facility that had an extremely large and ethnically diverse population. It seemed as though every country in the world was represented. English was not the mother tongue for a number of these folks. Some of them spoke excellent English, others not so. Some of these employees wanted you to believe they couldn’t speak English when they could fluently. It was a card they played whenever they thought they might be getting into or were in trouble.

I was representing management at an arbitration hearing for four delivery drivers whose employment was terminated for time theft. They would leave in the morning with a full load only to return after quitting time with a significant portion of the load still on the truck. Some would be as late as two hours. Overtime would be paid out in accordance with the terms of the collective agreement.

The company engaged the services of a private investigation firm to conduct surveillance on the four drivers who had logged the highest amount of overtime and the largest number of returns. We discovered the drivers were not doing their deliveries. They were engaging in a variety of non-work activities such as sleeping, shopping, visiting friends, selling dope, and goofing off, to name a few. This was happening repeatedly.

One of the terminated drivers, whose mother tongue was not English, took the stand to tell his side of the story. He understood the questions put to him by union counsel and answered them clearly and concisely. He did not ask union counsel to repeat any questions. The examination went smoothly.

When cross examined by the company lawyer, this individual frequently asked for the question to be repeated. On other occasions, he claimed he didn’t understand the question and asked for it to be rephrased. He spoke in broken English and spent a lot of time in silence. The cross seemed to take forever. Our lawyer, frustrated, suggested an interpreter be brought into the hearing to assist with the translation of the questions. The terminated employee looked like he was going to have a heart attack. He clearly didn’t anticipate this happening. There was no doubt he understood what our lawyer was requesting. The Union objected and a debate ensued. Eventually, it was agreed that an interpreter would not be requested. The witness’s English improved 1000% and the cross examination was completed with no further interruptions.

If there is any doubt there might a language issue in your interview, don’t hesitate to hire a translator. The same applies to a person with a hearing impairment. Hire a signer. It will be a small investment but well worth it.