aroma - Avshalom Halutz - February 9 2010
Aroma Cafe in Bat Yam. Photo by Avshalom Halutz
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Employees of the Aroma Tel Aviv coffee shops have been ordered to speak only Hebrew in front of customers. The instruction manual provided to franchisees by the chain states: "During work, near customers, speak Hebrew only," under the section on how to act during work hours.

The requirement is discriminatory, says labor lawyer Dganit Lapidor: "It is forbidden to discriminate against employees in employment conditions. Arabic, for example, is an official language in the State of Israel," she said. "If you tell an employee they are not allowed to speak their own language, it looks like discrimination," she added.

Employees and former employees said management specifically asked workers not to speak Arabic. Sahar Shefa, one of the owners of Aroma Tel Aviv, directs franchisees via regional managers to keep the front of the store "clean from Arabic," said former employees.

But some franchisees, employees and former employees said they have never heard of such a rule, and a number of the new franchisees are Arabs.

Aroma was founded in 1994 by brothers Sahar and Yariv Shefa. After a dispute five years later, the chain split into two: Aroma Tel Aviv, controlled by Sahar, and Aroma Israel, controlled by Yariv, which operates everywhere outside of Tel Aviv. Aroma Tel Aviv has 23 branches.

Aroma Tel Aviv said it employs many workers whose mother tongue is not Hebrew. "The instruction to speak Hebrew around customers came after complaints that from the chain's customers, who felt that a conversation held in front of them by employees in a language that was not Hebrew was related to them, and this caused them to feel uncomfortable and insulted."

The company said the instruction would provide better service and communications between customers and employees, and would enable employees to be more polite.