Urban Diplomat: Human Rights, ESL

Dear Urban Diplomat, I’m a receptionist, and I’m helping hire a replacement for my upcoming maternity leave. My boss and I interviewed several qualified applicants who spoke English as a second language. Their English was excellent (certainly fluent enough to take messages), yet my boss hired a less qualified native English speaker. Is this discrimination, or does she have a right to demand perfect English from the person who answers her phone? Should I confront her? —Assistant in need of assistance, NORTH YORK

It’s a human rights violation to rule out job applicants based on ethnic origin, often apparent in people’s accents. If the ESL candidates clearly demonstrated their superiority over the final hire, it does sound like discrimination is rearing its ugly head, and you should take the matter to your HR reps. They’ve likely role-played this very scenario in workshops and will be eager to put their training to use. Unless you’re planning to make your mat leave permanent, don’t go all defender-of-justice on your boss. It’s next to impossible to prove your suspicions, and accusing her will only lead to excruciating office tension. Instead, ask her why she didn’t hire certain candidates. Frame it as a difference of opinion, and leave her not-so-latent xenophobia out of it.

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