Discrimination in hiring is always bad. But it may not always be illegal


Eluned Anderson received a job application rejection email. That part is normal. What is not normal is why the hiring manager rejected her. The email contained this explanation:

It was decided that your strong Welsh accent, accompanied by your regional activities, would not suit the office environment.

This is a weird reason to reject someone, and if you are in the US, it can also be an illegal reason to reject someone. It can also be legal, so this is the difference for employers in the United States.

Discrimination against national origin is illegal

In the United States, you cannot discriminate against someone based on where they were born or their citizenship. As long as they are legal to work, you should consider them just like anyone else. (There are some exceptions for jobs with security clearances, but that’s not the general rule.)

So if their accent is because they were born outside the US or English is their second language, you may be breaking the law. Corporate Attorney Josh Joel, Counsel at Stanton Law, explains:

“Refusing to hire someone based on their accent can be dangerous territory. Federal law prohibits making employment decisions based on national origin, and a foreign accent is a clear reflection of national origin.”

In Anderson’s case, they rejected her because her Welsh accent was too strong. In the US (recognizing that Anderson is in the UK and subject to different rules), that could lead to a strong case of discrimination based on national origin.

That doesn’t mean you have to hire someone you don’t understand (as long as you have to speak English for the job – many jobs don’t even require the ability to speak or understand English). Attorney Joel explains:

The only exception is if the candidate’s accent is so difficult to understand that it interferes with them effectively performing the core functions of the job. Examples where this may apply to certain telephone functions, such as telemarketers. But I highly recommend that you talk to an employment lawyer before turning down a job offer because of an employee’s accent.

Regional accents are a different story.

What if you don’t want to hire someone who sounds like a New Yorker, a Southerner, or a Philadelphian? Labor attorney and partner at Wickens Herzer Panza and native Philadelphian Jon Hyman says:

While I would like to think that “Philly” is a protected class and that I can drink my glass of wooder without fear of discrimination, unfortunately that is not the case.

Oddly enough, you can discriminate against a native Philadelphian because of their accent, but not against a native Brazilian. Regional accents have no protection.

Of course, as long as you can understand someone, their accent shouldn’t make any difference.

Keep in mind, though, that accents are only part of why people speak the way they do. Hyman adds, “But a ‘black’ accent or ‘gay’ effect… different story.” If you discriminate against someone because they sound like a protected class, you are doing it illegally.

Your best bet? Don’t judge people by their accents, but by their ability to do the job. It prevents you from breaking the law, mistreating people and creating a more diverse workforce.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not Inc.com’s.

This post Discrimination in hiring is always bad. But it may not always be illegal was original published at “https://www.inc.com/suzanne-lucas/discrimination-in-hiring-is-always-bad-but-it-might-not-always-be-illegal.html”


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