I am a US citizen working in Australia. I am not white. My boss routinely mocks me with a fake American accent implying that I am not a "real" American.

I'm pretty sure that his intent is undeniably malicious, not playful. I know I am not imagining it, because other people look uncomfortable when he starts doing it.

However, he is very smart and keeps the fake accent just at the borderline where listeners know he is mocking, but it's hard to prove.

I feel that I can't go to HR or accuse him in any way because I can't prove it, and no one in the group will even dream of giving evidence against him, so he knows he is safe. If I accuse him without proper evidence, I'm worried he may turn around and sue me for harassment or defamation.

What action can I take to get this to stop.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Jane S
    Commented Feb 9, 2016 at 23:37

3 Answers 3


I had a similar problem. I am English, living in California. A lot of people comment on or mimic my English dialect. Very few people do it persistently to the point where it becomes annoying. In all except one case, hints have been enough to get them to stop.

The one exception, fortunately, was a handyman I was paying to do some work around my house. I could fire him, for that and other reasons.

In your situation, I suggest picking out a colleague you get along with who seems to be uncomfortable with the boss's behavior. Tell that colleague that the accent thing is making your uncomfortable, and ask for advice on how to get the boss to stop. The hope, of course, is that the colleague will offer to talk to the boss about it. It is much easier for a third party to handle something like this.

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    I wouldn't take the advice of any Americans on this one. The Australian culture is different from the American, and Americans have a way of assuming that what's appropriate in the US is appropriate overseas. As Patricia says, get the advice of a local. In particular, you might explain that as an American, you're not sure what the OK way to handle it is in Australia.
    – BobRodes
    Commented Feb 10, 2016 at 7:03
  • I guarantee you that if this was someone visiting America, the commenters would not say "Don't get the advice of [someone from the country where you're at] on this one. Commented Feb 10, 2016 at 22:36
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    Some people do this almost unconciously. I enjoy copying other's speech, not to make fun of them, but because speech variations are interesting. I have to make a conscious effort to not adopt mimic someone else's accent. Commented Feb 11, 2016 at 6:41
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    Adopt a fake Aussie accent and come to work wearing a hat with corks round the brim and quoting Crocodile Dundee. Commented Feb 12, 2016 at 14:54

I sense he intimidates you (whether due to his personality or power) but don't underestimate the importance and need of talking to him about this first. Even if you have to do it more politely and sensitively than you want - for instance, "Perhaps I am being sensitive, but it sometimes feels like you are mocking me in meetings." This will force him to explain himself and at least give him pause before continuing the behavior. FWIW, the "not a real American" comment seems way out of line to me.

The other reason this is important is that if he does continue or in fact become progressively worse, HR will be able to take far greater action if this is something you have personally expressed to him. Also, he could actually be clueless and you pointing out how his behavior makes you feel might actually make him stop.

I do agree with the earlier comment though that you should ask a local confidant how cultural differences might play a role here. Keep in mind though, in no culture is it ok to say you are not American because you are not white.


Reading your question indicates to me a bit of a culture clash here - while I'm sure that Australian workplaces are not massively different from American (or any other), there is definitely some variation between cultures.

While this is skirting very close to legal advice, I'm fairly confident that in no workplace in Australia would you, making one HR complaint about a colleague or superior, end up with a lawsuit for harassment.

You might not even need to go to HR.

First, ask for a private meeting with your boss. Tell him that you are very uncomfortable with his joking about your accent. Say that while you know he's only messing about with it (even if you think otherwise - this is not the time to start making accusations), it is affecting you adversely and you would prefer him to stop it. You do have to allow for the fact that this person is simply obnoxious/ignorant rather than malicious.

Make a note of the meeting date.

Then, if he continues with the mocking, or starts some other form of bullying, make a note of what he did and when he did it, and who was around to witness it.

If, after a couple of weeks, he doesn't stop, talk to HR and mention that you have taken it up with the individual and he has continued despite this.

Hopefully, this will be the end of it all. However, if it doesn't stop, try HR one more time. If that fails, then I suggest you talk to your lawyer to get advice on the bullying, and start looking for better job.

However - if you have other reasons to think that this bullying won't stop (other people have been bullied) or he really will sue you for harassment (there's stories of him doing that before), then simply go straight to the end of this scenario and get a better job.

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