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Non-native English speakers face discrimination at work

Here in New Jersey, workers are protected against discrimination in employment under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination Act as well as several federal employment laws. Unfortunately, while it is very clearly illegal for employers to discriminate or harass workers or job candidates, this does still happen in both obvious and nuanced ways.

A certain form of discrimination has recently been reported to be on the rise, and this is quite disconcerting to see as we go into 2013. More and more workers are experiencing discrimination in the workplace based on their native languages or accents, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

In fact, workplace discrimination complaints involving national origin rose by more than 75 percent from 1997 to 2011. Last year, more than 11,800 complaints were filed with the EEOC. National origin discrimination often involves harassment due to language ability.

The EEOC believes the uptick is directly linked to the increasing diversity of the American workforce and the increasing polarization surrounding immigration laws. About 45 million Americans today do not speak English at home, according to a news report on the subject.

There have been a few recent high-profile cases where workers were actually fired because they were speaking a language other than English on the job. However, this is generally illegal because under federal law employers can only impose English-only rules if English is necessary to accomplish the job. Even then, workers are generally allowed by law to speak with one another in another language on the job from time to time -- in the break room, during side conversations or when off-duty, for example.

Those who have experienced workplace discrimination on the basis of their nationality, native language or accent, as well as based on other classifications, may benefit from seeking legal counsel. Filing a workplace discrimination claim is a way to obtain compensation for losses as well as hold the employer accountable to make changes and foster a discrimination-free workplace.

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

  • To learn more about workplace discrimination and employee rights, please visit our New Jersey litigation and appeals law firm's Discrimination page.

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