No Habla English, No Job

Ellena Arroyo

Businesses have no problem bridging the language gap when it comes to serving customers of varying language backgrounds and communities. When it comes to hiring practices however, it seems that there is sometimes a tendency to turn down prospective employees based on their native tongue or accented English. These kinds of practices are illegal and employees are protected under the law from discrimination based on their language or accent.

“This is America, so speak American.” As confusing as that statement may be, many well meaning patriots believe that the United States only have room for one language, English. The reality of this country is that there are large communities of varying cultures that speak several languages and dialects. Though assimilation to American culture is a big part of any immigrant’s process, preserving their native culture and language is equally critical to maintaining a diverse society.

The law

The Equal Employment Opportunities Commission protects individuals from being discriminated against in the workplace because of their native language or other characteristics of speech, such as accent. Such discrimination can take the form of a “speak-English-only” policy in which employees are forbidden from speaking any language other than English at work and even during breaks.

Hiring practices

Language discrimination can also occur during the hiring process. An interviewing employer might turn down an interviewee who speaks fluent English stating they are not suitable for the position because they speak with a Spanish accent. Meanwhile another employee who speaks with a British accent is interviewed for the position. This is another example of language discrimination.

The Numbers

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on national origin. A survey done by the General Accounting Office of the United States found that job applicants who speak English with an accent were treated unfairly 31% more times than unaccented applicants. Another study conducted at the University of North Texas found that Human Resource Executives were more prone to placing U.S. speakers with strong regional accents in lower paying positions regardless of education level or experience. Participants asserted that the most displeasing accents were ones with a southern drawl or New Jersey.

For more information on language and accent discrimination, visit Orange County employment lawyer Perry Smith at

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