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No doubt, your managers and supervisors know not to ridicule someone's accent or way of speaking. But what if an employee's communication skills suffer on account of his other accent? Are you prohibited from mentioning that accent and recommending remedial help to better communications?

No, but the trick is to make sure that you offer reasonable advice. If so, you needn't fear that this "career development" guidance will haunt you later if you fire the employee for an unrelated business-related reason.

Recent case: Revcor Molded Products hired Xuxian Niu, an American of Chinese descent, as a manufacturing engineering manager. Niu soon complained that co-workers ridiculed his accent. At the same time, those co-workers complained about Niu's poor communication skills.

Revcor sent Niu to a two-day seminar on communications, hired an executive coach to guide him and gave him a book on effective communications in an effort to improve his communications style.

Months later, Revcor terminated Niu when the business took a downturn and the projects he worked on didn't seem to have good prospects for the immediate future. He sued, alleging that he was truly fired because of his ancestry. He pointed to the comments on his accent as proof.

The Texas Court of Appeals didn't buy it.

The court concluded Niu's accusations weren't a legitimate counter to Revcor's stated business reason. Isolated comments months earlier weren't enough proof of discrimination. (Niu v. Revcor Molded Products, No. 2-05-104, Texas Court of Appeals, 2006)  

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