Employment News

News added on 26.04.2021

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Race discrimination

The risk of name discrimination

According to a new Twitter poll by HR magazine, 37% of respondents have changed or abbreviated their name to make it “easier” for others, and they regularly experience mispronunciations or misspellings. If employees are being forced to adapt their names for work-related purposes, what is the risk?

Previous studies have shown that applicants with a white-sounding name are much more likely to get an interview than those with an ethnic-sounding one. So, some people change their name at the job application stage. However, rejecting an applicant due to their ethnic or foreign-sounding name constitutes direct race discrimination. Even if you don’t immediately recognise that’s what you’ve done, be alive to the concept of unconscious bias, i.e. the underlying attitudes and stereotypes that a person attributes to someone else, e.g. because of their name, without conscious awareness that they’re doing so.

Others change or shorten their name when they start a new job, often to make it easier for their work colleagues or to try and “fit in”. If an employee genuinely voluntarily wants to do this, that’s a personal choice, but it’s important they don’t feel they’re being forced into this by the attitudes of management or other staff, as again there’s a risk of race discrimination.  If a new employee suggests they be called an alternative “easier” name, have a chat with them and explain that you would encourage them to celebrate their culture and identity by keeping their original name in the workplace.  

Where a new employee hasn’t changed their name, it’s acceptable for their colleagues to ask them how to pronounce or spell it, but if those colleagues then go on to repeatedly mispronounce it, or they choose to shorten or anglicise it without permission, that could constitute racial harassment, for which you could be vicariously liable. You can cover this in your dignity at work staff training programme. Then, if you hear someone mispronouncing an employee’s name, correct them and tell them to ensure they get it right next time, perhaps by writing it down phonetically. Persistent and deliberate name mispronunciations or abbreviations, or deliberately calling an employee by an unwanted English name, should trigger your disciplinary procedure.

The risk is a claim for race discrimination or racial harassment, for example if you repeatedly mispronounce someone’s name or you shorten it or give them an alternative anglicised name without their permission, or you create a workplace culture where they feel forced into adopting an English name.

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