EO Award Nomination Utah

Utah EO Award Nomination: Assisting Customers with Language Barriers

Contact Information of Individual Submitting Nomination

Nominator: Carolyn Parsons

Email Address: cparsons@utah.gov

Agency Name: Utah Department of Workforce Services



Assisting Customers with Language Barriers

The Department’s EO manager was conducting the annual on-site monitoring and interviewing staff. One of the inquiries in the monitoring process pertains to language access for customers. Staff were continually confusing securing an American Sign Language interpreter with the procedures for securing an interpreter for customers with limited English proficiency. These are two very different and distinct procedures, as well as different legally protected classes; persons with disabilities and national origin.

For persons who are LEP, bi or multilingual staff may be used to assist the customer. For customers who are deaf or hard of hearing, certified ASL interpreters (if requested and appropriate) must be provided following the department’s administrative procedures.

An issue arose a couple of years back where a customer who was deaf went to a DWS employment center for assistance in applying for Unemployment Insurance. She asked for an ASL interpreter to assist her. The DWS employee had limited ASL training and determined she could best assist the customer by using her sign skills to communicate. Additionally, her understanding from the training she had received, if a staff interpreter was available on site, that would be the first option. She assisted the customer, and for the next several weeks the claimant returned, and would request an ASL interpreter, only to have the DWS staff person assist again. Unbeknownst to the employee, the claimant did not read English; ASL was her first language. Each week she returned to the center and followed all the prompts the employee had initially directed, which included “clicking” the “No” button when asked if she worked the previous week. She had in fact returned to work. The claimant had a substantial overpayment, and a fraud action against her by the time she found someone to explain the notices she was receiving from the department. She thought the payments she continued to receive on her benefit card was her Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.

This unfortunate incident, coupled with the staff confusion we discovered during monitoring prompted us to re-look at our policy, procedures, and training. Coincidentally, the LEP web-based training was scheduled for annual review, before being released for staff.

Describe the nominee's significant contributions towards the understanding and achievement of equal opportunity and nondiscrimination for all employees and customers. Response (400 word limited).

Previous reviews of the training were performed by a program specialist, working in a specific division, rather than in an administrative role. For this year’s training review, the EO manager and the DWS Learning Portal Administrator coordinated efforts to ensure the “agency wide” view was taken into consideration, rather than the perspective of one division within the department. We quickly found the reasons for confusion.

Administrative policies and procedures must be vetted through several levels of authority in the department before becoming published to the Intranet. This process typically takes several months to be calendared on the various leadership schedules. Once the source of the confusion was found, we worked with the curriculum and training developer, and re-wrote policy, then drafted two distinct procedures; one for LEP customers, and one for customers who are deaf or hard of hearing. We made certain to clearly differentiate between the two, and explain the laws and processes for meeting each customer’s language access needs.

Provide a statement of results, accomplishments, impacts, and any other appropriate information that demonstrates why the nominee's efforts described in question #1 were an exceptional contribution. Response (400 word limit).

The EO manager reports to the Department’s General Counsel, Kathy Bounous. Kathy was informed of the concerns and need for prompt editing of the policy, procedures, and training. The LEP training was scheduled for release in less than two months. Kathy immediately contacted the Executive Director’s assistant and asked that the EO manager have time scheduled on the next leadership agenda, which was the following week. The EO manager presented the areas of concern and the proposed changes to the training and policy and procedures to the team. DWS Leadership approved the changes and asked that the new “Assisting Customers with Language Barriers” be released as soon as it could be published to the Intranet. The entire re-vamp process took only 7 weeks.

DWS’ leadership team are to be commended for their support and prompt action to ensure equal access and opportunity for customers, and ensuring staff have the tools and information necessary to provide their customers the assistance and benefits they need.

Leadership in the department follows the Executive Director, Jon Pierpont’s example of “Let's get it done.”

Please note: The training could not be uploaded here, due to the size, as well as audio portions. Therefore, screen shots are provided as a summary of the training.


Samples of work 

UT - William J Harris application 2020.pdf (4.1MB)
UT - Admin approval 2020.pdf (21KB)