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Issues of language a problem in the workplace

According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, more people are claiming discrimination in the workplace over their ability to speak English or their accent. The federal government will be issuing guidelines to employers about enforcement of English-only rules.

From 1997 to 2011, workplace discrimination claims based on national origin rose by 76 percent. The complaints often involved proficiency in English or speaking with a foreign accent. The EEOC has attributed this rise to a more ethnically diverse workforce, but civil rights activists claim that workplaces have become more hostile in some states which have been enacting new immigration legislation.

In a recent case in our own California, dozens of Filipino hospital workers won a settlement after claiming harassment for speaking in their native language or because of their accent. Cases like this have been on the rise, and the EEOC is working towards a solution: employers must distinguish between an accent that is discernible and one that gets in the way of performing job tasks. This means that just having an accent isn't reason enough for termination, but does allow for those who need to have a clearer English pronunciation for their job to be terminated if they are unable to do so.

Being picked on at work, denied promotions or being fired as a result of speaking with an accent can be difficult to come forward about. For people who face discrimination or termination as a result of national origin, such as speaking with a foreign accent, there are legal options open to pursue. In many cases, this can result in a settlement including financial compensation.

Source: the Contra Costa Times, "Language conflicts trend higher in workplace," Paul Foy, Nov. 29, 2012

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Law Offices of Allan A. Sigel, P.C.

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