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National Origin Discrimination

Employers sometimes make hiring, firing, promotion, and pay decisions based on an employee's national origin. Discrimination on the basis of national origin is illegal under federal law, as well as under many state laws.

What Is National Origin Discrimination?

National origin discrimination happens when someone treats someone else unfavorably because of their national origin. It differs from discrimination based on race, whether an individual is a U.S. citizen or immigration-related status.

National origin discrimination involves treating people (job applicants or employees) unfavorably because:

  • They are a part of a particular national origin group
  • They are of a specific ethnicity
  • They have an accent
  • They have a particular citizenship status
  • They appear to be of a certain ethnic background (even if they are not)

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guides on national origin discrimination.

Examples of National Origin Discrimination

National-origin harassment can include the following discriminatory practices:

  • Offensive or derogatory remarks about a person's national origin, accent, or country of origin
  • Derogatory remarks or ethnic slurs
  • Harassing comments about national origin that create a hostile or offensive work environment. And when it results in an adverse employment decision
  • Requiring English only when English fluency is not necessary to perform the job well.

The harasser can be the victim's supervisor or a different supervisor at the employer. They can also be someone who is not a co-worker or someone who is not an employer, such as a client or customer.

National Origin Discrimination and Work Situations

An employer can't use an employment policy or practice if it negatively impacts people of a certain national origin and is not necessary to operate a business. This is the case even if the employment practice applies to everyone and there is a nondiscriminatory reason for the policy or practice.

Regardless of national origin, if the employment policy or practice harms a group of people with a particular national origin or ethnic group and isn't related to job performance, it violates employment law.

Language Issues in the Workplace

An employer can only demand an employee to speak fluent English if English fluency is necessary for a specific position or work performance. An "English-only rule" is only allowed if necessary to ensure safe and efficient business operations.

Basing employment decisions on whether a person is without an accent or other linguistic characteristics is problematic. An employer can only use these measures for employment eligibility if the accent seriously interferes with job performance.

An "English-only rule" can serve as the basis of a discrimination complaint. An employer must think about whether they have a legitimate business reason for language-based employment decisions. They must ensure these decisions do not violate Title VII.

Who Does Title VII Protect from National Origin Discrimination?

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is important. It bans employers with more than 15 employees from discriminating against employees. They can't discriminate on race, color, or national origin. It also bans discrimination against those associated with a person, organization, or group connected to a particular race, color, or national origin.

What Employers Should Know

Facially neutral policies are not allowed under Title VII if they negatively impact people of a particular race, color, or national origin. If the policy doesn't relate to the job and is unnecessary for the operation of the business, it goes against Title VII.

The law also bans harassment, which includes using racial slurs, derogatory remarks, and displaying racially offensive symbols. Unlawful behavior must be frequent and severe enough to create a hostile work environment. Or it results in an adverse employment decision against the victim.

Discrimination based on the physical characteristics of a particular race is also forbidden. The following characteristics may not serve as a basis for discrimination unless they are relevant aspects of the job:

  • Hair texture
  • Skin color
  • Facial features
  • Height

Also banned are neutral policies with a discriminatory impact. Employers may not isolate members of a certain race to a physical area or away from customer contact.

What Employees Should Know

Employees who believe that they received an adverse employment action based on their national origin or that their national origin has played a negative role in their employment status can bring a complaint before their state's Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or EEOC. They may file a charge of discrimination.

Employees in the private sector or state and local governments may file a discrimination charge for rights violations under federal EEO laws.

They may also sue their employer if the EEOC charge does not bring a solution.

Laws About National Origin Discrimination in Employment

The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA) makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate in:

  • Hiring
  • Firing
  • Recruitment
  • Referral for a fee

Employers cannot base these decisions on a person's citizenship or immigration status. The Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division's Immigrant and Employee Rights Section enforces the IRCA's nondiscrimination requirements.

National Origin Discrimination Articles

The resources below give additional information on national origin discrimination. They come from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the U.S. Department of Justice, and other federal government agencies.

You Don't Have to Solve This on Your Own: Get a Lawyer's Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to protect your rights if you believe you may have a discrimination claim.

An employment lawyer can help you with national origin discrimination, race discrimination, sexual harassment, religious discrimination, and other anti-discrimination laws. They can explain your legal options and whether you have a viable discrimination case. Visit our employment law attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

Learn About National Origin Discrimination

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

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