The ban on language discrimination: how does it work in practice?

Lithuanian law provides legal protection against discrimination based on language. This means that the country prohibits discrimination on the basis of the mother tongue or other languages a person does or does not speak. This applies to recruitment, public and private services and many other situations. However, the ban is not absolute. So what restrictions on language are legal?

Working conditions

Under the Law on Equal Opportunities, it is not discrimination to require knowledge of the national language. If an employer requires a potential employee to speak the national language, it does not violate the candidate’s equal opportunities. There are many reasons for this language proficiency. For example, the safety instructions that must be read are written in Lithuanian. The company or institution provides services in Lithuania, and employees must work with clients on a regular basis.

However, it is not forbidden to take on a non-Lithuanian-speaking worker. These procedures, contracts and other important documents can be translated into several languages to make the worker aware of safety and working conditions. For example, Russian, Polish, English or other. In the case of team-based work, it is important that the team gets along and that the processes run smoothly.

It is not forbidden to ask employees to speak a foreign language, but any request must be justified. Professional requirements that are necessary for the performance of your job (which must also be lawful and proportionate) are not discrimination. For example, when assessing a job advert that requires candidates to speak English, the Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson would check whether English is required for the specific position – working with international documents, foreign clients, business trips, participation in international projects and events, etc.

Protection of consumer rights

Sellers of goods or service providers cannot refuse to serve customers who speak another language. In some cases, knowledge of the client’s language is a prerequisite for providing a quality service. For example, when providing medical advice, it makes sense to have a specialist who speaks the language of the service user present. Of course, this should not restrict access to urgent and necessary assistance.

Providing services in languages other than Lithuanian can widen the customer base and improve communication with users who do not speak the official language. However, this does not mean that the service provider itself must be fluent in all the world’s languages. Services can also be provided (and described) through a translator.

Lithuanian is a compulsory language for public institutions. Services are primarily provided in Lithuanian. Consultations, written answers and other assistance are provided in Lithuanian. To ensure that ethnic communities receive quality information and services, representatives of the institutions can organize services in other languages as needed.

It is important to note that in situations where foreigners or other non-Lithuanian speakers are in a vulnerable position, translation into a language they understand must be provided. For example, if a person who does not speak Lithuanian is recognized as a victim of a crime or a suspect, the legal process and his/her rights and obligations must be explained to him/her in a language he/she can understand. It should be stressed that, although court hearings are also held in the official language, the participants in the proceedings are guaranteed the right to an interpreter. Another example is asylum seekers. If there are indications that a foreigner in detention, at a border inspection post or in a transit zone may apply for asylum, he or she must be given information about this right and the procedures in a language he or she understands.