Workplace discrimination is unlawful when it is based on a person’s protected characteristics. The Equal Opportunity Act of 2010 identifies 18 different personal characteristics that are illegal bases of discrimination at work. Employers may not discriminate against workers in all of the stages of employment, including recruitment, interviews, hiring decisions, bonuses, promotions, discipline, and terminations. The attorneys at Swartz Swidler can explain the types of characteristics on which discriminatory treatment cannot be based.
What is accent discrimination?
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or EEOC is tasked with enforcing federal anti-discrimination laws. These laws prohibit employers from discriminating against employees because of their race, sex, age, religion, national origin, color, gender, and sexual orientation. This means that employers may not discriminate against workers based on their culture, birthplace, or ancestry.
Your accent is associated with your national origin. For this reason, discriminating against a worker because of his or her accent is illegal under federal law. English-only policies that require English fluency may also be discriminatory.
Are employers allowed to have English-fluency requirements?
Employers are allowed to have English-fluency requirements if there are legitimate, business-related reasons for employees to be able to speak English in the workplace. In general, a workplace requirement that makes employees have fluency in English will be considered to be legal as long as fluency in English is necessary for the effective performance of the employee’s job. For example, a school district can require that an English teacher is fluent in English.
If the job only requires a sufficient enough understanding of English to be able to follow instructions or to communicate about work issues, an English-fluency requirement will typically not be allowed. Employers are also not allowed to prohibit people who communicate in another language from talking to each other in the foreign language while they are on breaks.
Can an employer ever fire a worker because of his or her accent?
There are some situations in which a company can legally fire an employee because of his or her foreign accent. While employment discrimination based on protected characteristics is illegal, an employer may require its workers to be able to speak English fluently if the language is a required aspect of being able to effectively perform the job.
If a worker works in a job in which fluent English is necessary for his or her effective job performance, the employer may fire the employee if his or her accent is pronounced enough to a degree at which he or she cannot be understood in his or her work environment and in his or her work assignments. The most common situation in which an employer may be legally able to terminate a worker because of his or her accent occurs in telemarketing or customer service because it is crucial that the customers are able to understand the worker.
What should a worker do if he or she believes that he or she was discriminated against based on his or her accent?
Courts look at multiple factors when they analyze whether accent discrimination has happened. These factors include the following:
- The communication level necessary to perform the job
- Whether a listener who is unbiased could reasonably understand the worker
- Whether the employer could have reasonably accommodated the worker
It is important to understand that accent discrimination is a subtype of national origin discrimination. National origin discrimination does not require an employer to provide reasonable accommodations to a worker to help him or her to perform his or her job. This is because having a foreign accent is not a disability that is covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act. An employer is able to make its defense case stronger in an accent discrimination case if the employer can show that a reasonable accommodation was provided to the worker even though it was not required.
Should you talk to a lawyer?
If you think that your employer engaged in wrongful accent discrimination against you without a valid reason, it is a good idea for you to talk to an employment lawyer. A skilled lawyer at Swartz Swidler can evaluate your potential claim and explain whether or not your employer’s actions appear to be unlawful. Contact our office today to schedule an appointment.