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Why name mispronunciations could be employment discrimination

On Behalf of | Dec 10, 2023 | Employment Law

It’s important for employers and coworkers to pronounce employees’ names correctly, and not just because making mistakes repeatedly can affect morale. Intentionally mispronouncing a person’s name – not simply making a mistake – could serve as a microaggression and a form of employment discrimination.

This is not the only way that microaggressions can be attached to people’s names. For instance, it may also be an issue if a name is repeatedly mocked, misspelled, misgendered or intentionally misunderstood.

More than disrespect

In some cases, the issue may be that other workers will decide that they won’t even try to pronounce a person’s name. They could say that it is “too hard for them” and that they’re going to choose a “new” name for that person. They will then give them a nickname or a nickname that is an intentional mispronunciation of their actual name.

This type of microaggression can create a hostile work environment. That worker may be consistently marginalized or made to feel like their name is somehow inferior. They seem like an outsider among their coworkers. When hostility is rooted in discrimination against someone’s protected characteristics, the situation may give the affected worker grounds to take legal action.

Issues in hiring

Another thing to keep in mind is that some workers with non-English-speaking backgrounds have claimed that it’s harder for them to get a job when they use their real name. Employers just don’t call them back or choose other applicants after interviews. Some of them have even taken to changing their names on their cover letters or resumes just to try to get a job. This is different than the microaggressions noted above, but could also be evidence of employment discrimination rooted in how someone’s name can affect their employment experience.

What options do employees have?

Employees who find themselves in this position know that they’re being treated unfairly and that they don’t deserve it. What they need to learn next is what legal steps they can take to put an end to this behavior. Seeking legal guidance is a good place to begin.