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Discrimination complaints about language and accents on the rise

South Florida is home to a diverse mix of people and cultures. While this provides a great opportunity for personal growth and a chance to expand one's horizons, this cultural melting pot can sometimes create problems in the workplace.

Specifically, more and more employees are becoming victims of national origin discrimination based on their foreign accents and/or their less-than-fluent command of the English language. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the number of complaints about national origin discrimination rose an astonishing 76 percent between 1997 and 2011. A significant number of these complaints included allegations of discrimination over language ability.

Certainly, English fluency makes on-the-job communication easier, and there certain jobs for which it is absolutely necessary. In 2002, federal guidelines issued to employers noted that English-only rules in the workplace can only be enforced "when it's crucial for performing a job."

When it comes to speaking English with an accent, the EEOC has warned that employers need to "distinguish between a merely discernible foreign accent and one that interferes with communication skills necessary to perform job duties."

Sadly, too many workers with foreign accents or non-fluent English skills face discrimination, harassment and wrongful termination even when their verbal skills are adequate to perform their work duties. Sometimes, employees are fired or reprimanded for speaking a language other than English in situations where it has no bearing on their work, such as while they are on break in the employee lounge.

Thankfully, the EEOC continues to pursue a number of high-profile cases to correct these injustices and to remind employers across the country that such discrimination is unfair and illegal.

Source: Insurance Journal, "More Workers Claiming Job Discrimination Over Language, Accents," Paul Foy, Dec. 4, 2012

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