Is it permissible for an employer to specify that job applicants should have a clear spoken voice and good command of English?
A requirement that job applicants have a clear spoken voice and good command of English could constitute indirect discrimination against applicants from some racial groups and some disabled applicants.
Where an individual is rejected for a role, or discouraged from applying for it, as a result of such a requirement, he or she could claim that the employer has applied a criterion that puts, or would put, him or her at a disadvantage because of his or her race or disability.
Further, someone who does not meet the requirement because of his or her disability, for example someone who does not have a clear spoken voice as a result of a hearing impairment, could claim discrimination arising from disability.
In some cases, the employer may be able to justify objectively the use of such criteria as being necessary requirements for the proper performance of the role. Employers should ensure that requirements are not excessive or overstated and should consider whether or not there are reasonable adjustments that they could make to the role.
From 21 November 2016, public authorities have a duty to ensure that each person who works for them in a customer-facing role speaks fluent English, and/or Welsh for authorities in Wales. The Code of Practice on the English language requirements for public-sector workers sets out guidance for public-sector employers on the duty. It states that they should consider the nature and extent of the spoken communication necessary for effective performance in each customer-facing role. The code makes clear that "fluency does not relate to regional or international accents, dialects, speech impediments or the tone of conversations."