Human Resources News & Insights

Co-workers complain they can’t understand her — is that bias?

In a diverse workplace, you might need to give supervisors some extra sensitivity training to avoid illegal bias.

In one recent court case, an employee complained that she was regularly harassed by co-workers because of her national origin.

She was originally from Mexico and spoke Spanish as her first language. Other employees had problems with her limited English — she claimed they would often respond to her comments by yelling, “What? What?” or “I do not understand you.”

The woman complained to her boss about how she was being treated, but no action was ever taken. The manager’s reaction: They were just voicing legitimate complaints about her communication skills.

But she didn’t see it that way — she sued the company for allowing a hostile work environment.

The court agreed. The employee demonstrated she knew enough English to do her job. Her co-workers clearly weren’t making legitimate complaints, they were taunting and harassing her.

The company failed to have the case thrown out and will now face a costly jury trial.

The lesson for managers: If it looks like employees are giving someone a hard time because of anything related to race, religion, gender or ethnicity, it’s your duty to step in and stop it.

Cite: Navarro v. U.S. Tsubaki, Inc.

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  • Essie

    My Office Manager actually gave reprimands to two Spanish employees for speaking to each other in their native language, in our office. And a main reason why they were both hired was so they could speak Spanish to our clients with limited understanding of English!

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