Federal law prohibits discrimination in the workplace based on an employee’s national origin, which includes the person's ancestry, birthplace, culture, or surnames associated with a particular ethnicity. If the employee can provide sufficient evidence that discrimination has taken place based on any of these characteristics he or she may be able to file a claim for discrimination.
Language discrimination often takes place when a person is treated differently because of his or her native language or other characteristics of the person’s language skills. For example, an employee could be experiencing language discrimination if the workplace has a “speak-English-only” policy but his or her primary language is not English.
The employee may also be the victim of language discrimination if treated worse than other employees because of speaking English with an accent or if told he or she does not qualify for a position because his or her English is not sufficient.
Is It Possible to Be Discriminated Against Due to Language or Accent?
The language an employee speaks and the accent used is often linked to national origin. In specific situations in the workplace English-only and language fluency policies can be considered discriminatory.
At the same time, however, there may be good reasons for a job’s requirements that are based on linguistic characteristics, like requiring that an employee is fluent in English or speaks in a way that can be understood easily by customers and coworkers.
If an employer takes an adverse action against an employee because of his or her accent, the employer must be able to show that the accent “materially interfered with job performance.”
In other words, an employee’s accent must have a significant negative effect upon the employee’s ability to do the job, and the employer’s ability to operate satisfactorily.
An employer may not deny a person an employment opportunity because that person is not proficient or fluent in English, unless:
- the job that person performs actually requires some English language skills (such as certain customer services positions), and;
- the person does not possess the particular type and level of English language skill required.
What to do if You’ve Been Discriminated Against Based on Language or Accent
If you think you may have been discriminated against by your employer because of your language skills or accent you may be able to file a charge of national origin or language-based discrimination.
Even if you know there is a law to protect you don’t expect it to work in your favor unless you ask an employment lawyer to work on your behalf to get the compensation for discrimination based on language or accent you are entitled to.
It is never easy to determine if you have been subjected to discrimination based on your language skills or ascent. If you are confused with the process you should consider contacting an employment lawyer.