Recruiting and hiring would be so much easier if we were all robots. We'd achieve just the right balance of whatever it is we need, all without the feelings and patterns and habits that, more often than not, work against our success. I'm on a lot of HR-related discussion boards, and this question came up recently from a brand-new HR manager (paraphrased so as to avoid violating anyone privacy):
Is it legal to deny an applicant an interview because of bad grammar on an application? Writing and other clerical duties are core responsibilities, but the job description does not explicitly state the use of correct grammar as a requirement. However, I assume this is an implied requirement.
Seems easy, right? "Bad grammar" isn't a protected class under any discrimination laws I know of, and everyone wants an administrative assistant with an English degree. The answer to the "is this legal" question is definitely "yes."
Still, I learned something amazing at a training quite a while ago, and it's become the number one thing I have taken with me on this HR journey: We MUST challenge job requirements like "good grammar"--and the even-more-pervasive "comfort" and "fit"--if we are to begin the work of dismantling white (and able- and cis- and hetero-) supremacy in hiring. Comfort is the essence of the status quo.
Here's my response to the OP:
I agree it's usually legal, and sometimes appropriate, to reject someone for bad grammar. It sounds like this may be one of those situations--though you may need to look into "implied requirements" and think about how to make them explicit if they are actual requirements. Since you're new to HR and will likely have issues like this arise in the future, I'll add my advice about stuff like this:
I think it's important we challenge ourselves to examine whether we use grammar or other values as tool to weed out people who are otherwise qualified and just come from different backgrounds. For example, it may make upper management feel more comfortable to hire a [manufacturing position/sales manager/IT director] who speaks and writes like them. However, speaking the Queen's English is often not job-related and in many cases may end up working against equity and inclusion efforts. For example, using AAVE in a cover letter might be a no-go for an executive assistant who is expected--as clearly stated in the job posting--to draft official company press releases, but it shouldn't weed people out if they won't be creating "formal" external communications. In the end, it's up to us to push hiring managers and challenge them when values like "fit" and "comfort" and, yes, perfect grammar stand in the way of doing our best work.
So, the right question is usually NOT "Is this legal?" It's "Why are we more comfortable with Candidate A than Candidate B?" or "Why do we care if our IT administrator isn't 100% fluent in English?" or "What do you mean when you say he 'fits in' better with the team?"
When we choose comfort and fit and grammar and appearance, we're usually choosing the status quo. And guess what the status quo is! It's white male C-suites, young female secretaries, people of color only in the entry levels, and sky-high unemployment for trans folk and people with disabilities.
We can do better than "comfortable," so now I challenge you: How can you make your leadership uncomfortable today?