Accents, language issues in the workplace (Toughest HR question)

Need bona fide reason for discrimination
By Andrew Treash
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 08/05/2010

Question: How can you overcome discrimination against people who speak English with a foreign accent?

Answer: Under human rights laws, everyone has the right to be free from employment-related discrimination based on certain grounds. While these grounds vary from province to province, they generally prohibit employment-related discrimination based on someone’s accent. It would be illegal not to hire someone because of her accent, for example, but discrimination could also occur any time a person is treated differently in the workplace because of her accent.

Under Canadian human rights legislation, discrimination is permitted if it is based on a bona fide occupational requirement. This means the requirement is essential for the person to perform the job. A simple example from the Canadian Human Rights commission is eyesight for airline pilots. For many other jobs, having perfect eyesight would not be a bona fide occupational requirement and treating someone differently because of poor eyesight would be discrimination.