During an interview you find it challenging to understand the applicant due to a strong accent. Can this be a reason to not appoint them?

The Equality Act 2010 defines Race as a “protected characteristic” and, under the Act, Race means colour, nationality or ethnic or national origins. This means that employees have no protection against discrimination if it is due to coming from a particular region of the UK.

An accent may be regional i.e. Newcastle is an English city which is well known for its strong accent, or national, i.e. Scottish, or foreign sounding to the UK such as a polish accent while speaking English.

Regional Accents

The Equality Act would therefore not stop you from rejecting a candidate due to a regional accent making it difficult for people to understand. However many people respond well to regional accents and can consider the people to be friendly. It can open up conversations and help to build rapport so think carefully before rejecting a candidate just for that reason.

National Accents

National accents would be protected under the Act. Whilst accent is not specifically listed as a protected characteristic, nationality and national origins are.  A candidate could argue that they speak with a national accent due to their nationality.

A National Accent may be from a different country within the UK – Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland – but the Act would still cover this discrimination.  It would also apply to other English-speaking nations outside the UK, such as Australia, New Zealand and the United States.

Clarity

Therefore the Law is very clear on this. You should never reject a candidate just because they have a strong national accent. Base your rejection on other solid business reasons, e.g. other candidates had more suitable qualifications, skills or competencies for the position.

Not their first language

The final category of accent is those for whom English isn’t their first language. Normally, regardless of how good their English is, you can still spot that they have a foreign accent when they speak. As with national accents, these candidates could well argue that they were discriminated against based on their race or nationality if you reject them because of their foreign-sounding accent when speaking English.

Rejection?

If you decide to reject due to their accent you must be confident that you can show it is a clear requirement of the job to have clear communication skills and that this skill is not only vital to the role but plays a major part. This may help you should they wish to claim discrimination. You would need to demonstrate that applying the occupational requirements is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim, not just a desirable skill.

If you would like to review your recruitment and selection policies, training or just have a chat about an issue that you are concerned about please give us a call. We provide expert HR advice and can help you ensure that you minimise your risk during your recruitment process. We look forward to hearing from you on 01473 360160.