Racial or ethnic discrimination can appear in many ways, even as discrimination against someone based on their accent.
Harassment and discrimination of any kind is not only unethical and often illegal, but it can also sabotage an organization. An important aspect of workplace law examines discrimination in career mobility and organizational rewards based upon a person’s race or ethnicity and other immutable characteristics. The term “immutable” refers to a characteristic we are born with and essentially cannot change, as opposed to our own actions and behaviors, as those can always be changed.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based upon race, color, ethnicity, national origin, and even accent. An employer may not base a decision on an employee’s foreign accent unless the accent materially interferes with job performance. Pharmacists might vary in their English fluency to some extent, but all have completed an accredited pharmacy degree program with communication skills courses, passed their licensure examination, and were hired by a health care organization. Although some pharmacists who have foreign accents may face challenges, it is unlikely that their accent will materially prevent them from performing their job.
If a pharmacist’s communication with patients and peers should be improved, then this needs to be documented and the pharmacist (or technician) should be given specific direction on how it might be improved. In an article published in The Journal of Cultural Diversity, expert Soji Akomolafe states that anyone who successfully completes the requirements for becoming a pharmacist and exhibits material competence in their job, including foreign accented speakers, should be accorded the same rights and responsibilities as other pharmacists.1
Pharmacy managers can promote a healthy work environment and optimal patient care basing hiring and promotion decisions on specific behaviors that are documented and either praised appropriately or directed for improvement. Managing based on employees’ immutable characteristics rather than behaviors can spell trouble in a number of ways.
Additional information about The Basics of Employment Law and Workplace Safety and Human Resources Management Functions can be found in Pharmacy Management: Essentials for All Practice Settings, 5e.
Shane P. Desselle, RPh, PhD, FAPhA, is a professor of social and behavioral pharmacy at Touro University in California
Akomolafe S. The invisible minority: Revisiting the debate foreign-accented speakers upward mobility in the workplace. J Cultural Diversity. 2013;20:7-14.