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Bilingual bias: Don’t overwork staff who speak multiple languages

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You're free to assign employees based on their foreign-language ability. For example, you can assign bilingual Spanish-speaking employees to serve customers who speak Spanish.

But remind managers not to overstep employees' job descriptions or rely too heavily on bilingual employees over other workers. That could include, for example, requiring bilingual retail employees to spend more time on the floor than their co-workers, or preventing your sole bilingual customer service phone rep from taking standard breaks.

To avoid legal trouble, analyze whether you assign duties to bilingual employees outside their job descriptions simply because of their national origin.

If you assign duties to employees based on a protected characteristic (race, gender, national origin, age, etc.), make sure the assignment is consistent with company policy and you apply it fairly.

Recent case: Undercover police detective Felipe Arroyo complained to his supervisors that he was assigned excessive and more dangerous work, including drug buys, than his peers because he spoke Spanish. He filed suit, claiming that the added duties amounted to discrimination based on his national origin.

A jury sided with Arroyo, awarding him $425,000 on his discrimination claim. (Arroyo v. San Diego, No. GO33356, CA 1/4, 2004)

Final tip: Counsel supervisors that if they must assign bilingual employees to different or additional work, it's wise to update their job descriptions and even consider additional pay for bilingual skills.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Felipe arroyo August 10, 2012 at 11:02 am

This article makes reference to a recent court case in which an undercover Detective filed a discrimination suit and won in court $425,000.00 in damages. It’s a well written article and I am glad to see that it was used in the article because it may prevent a costly legal dispute for an employer as well as an employee, not to mention the hostile and uncomfortable work environment that these cases usually produce. The jury actually awarded 1.3 million dollars in damages, when all the Detective wanted was to have the necessary tools and resources to adequately and safely do his job. However, the employer chose to attack the messenger rather than society’s drug problem. This is Detective Arroyo, thank you for reading the article.


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