By Yuriy Moshes
Have you ever perceived people differently because of their accent? Or, probably, were you the victim of discrimination at work because of your unconventional accent? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, this article is for you.
Unfortunately, it’s quite common that people are likely to be biased against those who speak with a different accent. Let’s find out more about the problem and how to deal with it.
What Is Language Discrimination?
Basically, language discrimination refers to a situation when an individual faces unfair treatment solely because of a different accent. This involves unconventional for an area pronunciation, syntax, or vocabulary.
Such an incident can happen anywhere. In normal life, people may just avoid those with the accent. However, discrimination in workplace cases is far more terrifying. The individual suffers from bullying. In more escalated situations, he/she is underestimated in terms of professionalism, fails to be promoted or to receive a pay rise, and even be fired.
One of the most widespread discriminations in the workplace examples is connected with the American Jewish accent. It implies a sing-songy pronunciation. Although some people even acknowledge the Jewish accent as a New York accent, people may not be promoted because of it. For example, a teacher from Brooklyn – a Jewish-Russian immigrant – was bullied by a school principal because of his accent. The teacher was wrongly accused of improper behavior, and a disciplinary letter was attached to his file. As a result, he couldn’t find another full-time job.
However, the principal claimed that the reason for that was the teacher’s origin and accent. And if the Teacher could collect more proof, it would be much easier to win the case. To understand better, here’s one more lawsuit based on discrimination. Let’s compare two of them, to understand when justice can really protect.
In the Teacher case, the only real evidence of the discrimination is his allegation that the Defendant had said he was not qualified because of his Jewish-Russian accent. Accordingly, the Plaintiff is alleging that therefore Defendant was biased and all of his actions were then discriminatory. Accordingly, the issue becomes whether not offering someone a job due to their accent is in itself discriminatory.
Similarly, the second case is also not very good for the Plaintiff. In this case, the only real evidence of discrimination is that the Plaintiff is stating that the Defendant’s clerk had made a comment about Hitler to Plaintiff and that the judge was aware of that when he had the clerk escort Planitff out the courthouse. Accordingly, the issue becomes whether that would then be discriminatory. The Appellate Court, however, didn’t really have to address that b/c it said that the Judge had judicial immunity so the issue would be moot. Furthermore, other than that one fact above, the evidence presented by the Plaintiff did not give any indication that Judge had any ethnic bias against Plaintiff. Obviously Judge was upset at Plaintiff. But there was no evidence it was motivated due to his ethnicity.
Accordingly, an almost perfect case is the Teacher case. At least the Jewish-Russian accent argument is a stronger and more persuasive argument. It’s hard to say that the second case has much a case. Proving antisemitism is a more complicated process with very little success rate.
Although, to prevent most discrimination issues in the workplace, company or even small businesses should follow these six steps.
6 Measures to Take
Once the problem is acknowledged, it’s vital to understand how to tackle it. Here are six measures to take:
Acknowledge the Problem
The first and foremost step is to acknowledge the problem. You have to deliver a clear message to the staff. It’s vital to describe the roots of such a discrimination type. The step is especially vital once there are first signs of discrimination at work.
Promote Inclusive Communication
Inclusive workplace practices are essential to tackle the problem. All employees and top-management have to overcome the prejudices and maintain non-judgmental and inclusive communication within a company. Everyone has to work on patience, ask an individual with an accent to repeat himself to understand what he is saying.
Set Up Diverse Teams
Employees with different accents shouldn’t be separated from the rest of the company. Otherwise, it will escalate the atmosphere and promote further discrimination. Set up diversified teams for all employees to bond regarding their ethnicity, language, and pronunciation. Every member should have a feeling of belonging.
Enlighten the Employees about Legal Issues Related to Accent Discrimination in the Workplace
Let employees know about discrimination in workplace law. On the one hand, those who differ from others will know their rights. Therefore, they will feel more protected.
On the other hand, it will serve a straining aspect of management and other employees. They will know about possible legal consequences.
Work Out the Appropriate Policies
A company must maintain equality on the corporate level. The best way is to include all the important aspects of corporate policies. It’s essential not to forget to inform all the employees about them.
Turn to a Lawyer
Basically, it’s HR’s duty to promote a favorable atmosphere within a company. However, in terms of discrimination, professional consultation with a lawyer won’t hurt. A specialist can help to work out policies and inform employees. You don’t need to hire a full-time lawyer for this.
Discrimination is a serious matter. Employees deserve to have equal opportunities regarding their race, color, or accent. Have you ever encountered discrimination in the workplace because of the accent?
The author is a labor law attorney from mosheslaw, where he helps people to fight with discrimination at work.