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Werner and Thompson a Los Angeles business and financial management firm.

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On trial92 When Werner and Thompson, a Los Angeles business and financial management firm, offered Iranian-born Firoz Bahmania a position as an accountant assistant one spring day in 2007, Bahmani felt a sense of genuine relief, but his relief was short-lived. With his degree in accounting from a top-notch American university, he knew he was more than a little overqualified for the job. But time after time, he’d been rejected for suitable positions. His language difficulties were the reason most often given for his unsuccessful candidacy. Although the young man had grown up speakin...

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On trial92 When Werner and Thompson, a Los Angeles business and financial management firm, offered Iranian-born Firoz Bahmania a position as an accountant assistant one spring day in 2007, Bahmani felt a sense of genuine relief, but his relief was short-lived. With his degree in accounting from a top-notch American university, he knew he was more than a little overqualified for the job. But time after time, he’d been rejected for suitable positions. His language difficulties were the reason most often given for his unsuccessful candidacy. Although the young man had grown up speaking both Farsi and French in his native land, he’d begun to pick up English only shortly before his arrival in the United States a few years ago. Impressed by his educational credentials and his quiet, courtly manner, managing partner Beatrice Werner overlooked his heavy accent and actively recruited him for the position, the only one available at the time. During his interview, she assured him that he would advance in time. It was clear to Beatrice that Firoz was committed to succeeding at all costs. But it soon also became apparent that Firoz and his immediate supervisor, Cathy Putnam, were at odds. Cathy was a seasoned account manager who had just transferred to Los Angeles from the New York office. Saddled with an enormous workload, she let Firoz know right from the start, speaking in her rapid-fire Brooklyn accent, that he’d need to get up to speed as quickly as possible. Shortly before Cathy was to give Firoz his three-month probationary review, she came to Beatrice, expressed her frustration with Firoz’s performance, and suggested that he be let go. “His bank reconciliations and financial report preparations are first-rate,” Cathy admitted, “but his communication skills leave a lot to be desired. In the first place, I simply don’t have the time to keep repeating the same directions over and over again when I’m trying to teach him his responsibilities. Then there’s the fact that public contact is part of his written job description. Typically, he puts off making phone calls to dispute credit card charges or ask a client’s staff for the information he needs. When he does finally pick up the phone . . . well, let’s just say I’ve had more than one client mention how hard it is to understand what he’s trying to say. Some of them are getting pretty exasperated.” “You know, some firms feel it’s their corporate responsibility to help foreign-born employees learn English,” Beatrice began. “Maybe we should help him find an English-as-a-second-language course and pay for it.” “With all due respect, I don’t think that’s our job,” Cathy replied, with barely concealed irritation. “If you come to the United States, you should learn our language. That’s what my mom’s parents did when they came over from Italy. They certainly didn’t expect anyone to hold their hands. Besides,” she added, almost inaudibly, “Firoz’s lucky we let him into this country.” Beatrice had mixed feelings. On one hand, she recognized that Werner and Thompson had every right to expect someone in Firoz’s position to be capable of carrying out his public contact duties. Perhaps she had made a mistake in hiring him. But as the daughter of German immigrants herself, she knew firsthand both how daunting language and cultural barriers could be and that they could be overcome in time. Perhaps in part because of her family background, she had a passionate commitment to the firm’s stated goals of creating a diverse workforce and a caring, supportive culture. Besides, she felt a personal sense of obligation to help a hard-working, promising employee realize his potential. What will she advise Cathy to do now that Firoz’s probationary period is drawing to a close? What Would You Do? 1. Agree with Cathy Putnam. Despite your personal feelings, accept that Firoz Bahmani is not capable of carrying out the accountant assistant’s responsibilities. Make the break now, and give him his notice on the grounds that he cannot carry out one of the key stated job requirements. Advise him that a position that primarily involves paperwork would be a better fit for him. 2. Place Firoz with a more sympathetic account manager who is open to finding ways to help him improve his English and has the time to help him develop his assertiveness and telephone skills. Send Cathy Putnam to diversity awareness training. 3. Create a new position at the firm that will allow Firoz to do the reports and reconciliations for several account managers, freeing the account assistants to concentrate on public contact work. Make it clear that he will have little chance of future promotion unless his English improves markedly.

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Partner B hired foreign-born employee F as an accountant in spite of the language difficulties. According to his immediate supervisor, F’s work is top-notch but his language skills are impairing his ability to do his job, and the supervisor would like to let him go. The supervisor also showed a low level of tolerance for F’s communication abilities in

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