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National Origin and Racial Discrimination at Work

Discrimination based on race, color, or national origin occurs when a person is treated differently because of their race, the color of their skin, or their national origin. Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it is unlawful for an employer with 15 or more employees to discriminate against a job applicant or an employee because of their race, color, or national origin.

Title VII also applies to a person treated poorly because of their relationship by marriage or association with a person of a certain race, color, or national origin.

Prohibited Discrimination Under Title VII

The law prohibits discriminatory employment practices based on race, color, or national origin when related to the following types of employment decisions:

  • Hiring
  • Firing
  • Promotions
  • Layoffs
  • Compensation
  • Benefits
  • Job assignments
  • Training

The law also prohibits unintentional discrimination when it has a discriminatory effect. Even neutral policies sometimes have a discriminatory effect. For example, "no-beard" policies may disproportionately discriminate against African-Americans, who more often than men in other racial groups suffer from pseudofolliculitis barbae, a skin condition that causes severe shaving bumps.

A neutral policy may be illegal if:

  • It has a negative impact on people of a particular race, color, or national origin;
  • It is unrelated to the job; and
  • It is unnecessary for the operation of a business.

Racial Discrimination at Work

Racial discrimination at work occurs when an employer considers a job applicant or employee's race when making an adverse employment-related decision.

Title VII prohibits the following types of color and racial discrimination from occurring at work:

  • Harassment: The law forbids racial slurs, derogatory remarks, and the display of racially offensive symbols when the behavior is frequent and severe enough to create a hostile or offensive work environment or results in an adverse employment decision against the victim. The law protects employees from harassment by supervisors, co-workers, and even clients and customers. If harassment is carried out by a supervisor or a manager, even one instance may be enough for a hostile work environment claim.
  • Color discrimination: Color refers to a person's skin pigmentation, complexion, or skin tone. The law prohibits discrimination based on the lightness or darkness of a person's color.
  • Discrimination based on race-related characteristics: Discrimination based on the physical characteristics of a particular race, such as hair texture, skin color, facial features, and height, is unlawful unless shown that it is job-related and necessary to carry out the operation of a business.
  • Discriminatory recruiting, hiring, and advancement: An employer must apply job requirements consistently and equally. If a requirement significantly excludes people of a certain race or color, requiring certain educational qualifications or skills may be illegal if they are unrelated to the performance of the job or if they are unnecessary for the operation of the business.
  • Pre-employment questions about race: If an employer requested pre-employment information that disclosed race or had the tendency to disclose race and members of a particular race were excluded from hiring, it may be presumed that the use of the information created an unlawful basis for hiring.
  • Segregation of employees: It is unlawful to isolate members of a certain race to a physical area or away from contact with customers.

National Origin Discrimination at Work

National origin discrimination occurs in the workplace when an employer makes an employment-related decision based on a job applicant or employee's country of origin, culture, accent, ethnicity, or assumed ethnicity.

The law prohibits the following types of discrimination based on national origin:

  • Harassment: The law forbids offensive and derogatory remarks about a person's national origin, ethnicity, or accent when it is severe enough to create a hostile or offensive work environment or results in an adverse employment decision against the victim. The law protects employees from harassment by supervisors, co-workers, clients, and customers.
  • Language requirements: An employer may create an English-only rule if it is necessary for the function of a business and applied equally. However, when these rules are applied to employees during breaks, they may be unlawful. An employer may not make employment decisions based on a person's accent unless it interferes with the function of a job.

A job applicant or employee may file a discrimination claim against an employer under state and federal law. The time you have to file a discrimination claim depends on the state where you live. Some states have a much shorter time limit to file a claim so contact an employment discrimination attorney to make sure you file your claim in time.

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