While the law forbids employers from making employment decisions based on a worker’s national origin, this discrimination is not always obvious. Sometimes, an employer may justify making employment decisions based on an employee’s accent. What should workers know about accent discrimination?
What is accent discrimination?
Unlike a person’s race or gender, the government does not explicitly protect workers from discrimination based on their accent. However, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), accents can indicate the place where a person grew up or their first language. As a result, a person’s accent directly reflects their national origin, and making hiring, promotional or other employment decisions based on that accent is a form of discrimination.
As the EEOC notes, employment decisions based on an employee’s accent are illegal in most cases. Employers can only consider accents if they will seriously impact a worker’s ability to perform the daily tasks of their job. This might include jobs where clear verbal communication over the phone is key to the role.
For example, a person’s accent may be a factor in their ability to work in a call center. However, an accent would be much less likely to impact the performance of those in job roles in which phone conferences are only an occasional requirement.
While discrimination based on accent can be subtle, workers can still push back against employers who mistreat them because of how they speak. If you experience discrimination because of your accent, you may want to explore your legal options.