National Origin Discrimination

It is unlawful for an employer to treat an employee or applicant unfavorably because he or she is from a particular country


National Origin Discrimination

It is unlawful for an employer to treat an employee or applicant unfavorably because he or she is from a particular country or part of the world, because of his or her ethnicity or accent, or because he or she appears to be of a certain ethnic background (even if he or she is not).  For example, an employer may not base an employment decision on an employee’s foreign accent, unless the accent seriously interferes with the employee’s job performance.

National origin discrimination also can involve treating people unfavorably because they are married to (or associated with) a person of a certain national origin.

Notably, discrimination can occur when the victim and the person who inflicted the discrimination are the same national origin.

Further, the law makes it illegal for an employer to use an employment policy or practice that applies to everyone, regardless of national origin, if it has a negative impact on people of a certain national origin and is not job-related or necessary to the operation of the business.

In addition, an employer can only require an employee to speak fluent English if fluency in English is necessary to perform the job effectively.  An “English-only rule,” which requires employees to speak only English on the job, is only allowed if it is needed to ensure the safe or efficient operation of the employer’s business and is put in place for nondiscriminatory reasons.

It is also unlawful for an employer to harass a person because of his or her national origin. Harassment can include, among other things, offensive or derogatory remarks about a person’s national origin, accent or ethnicity.

Harassment can come from just about anyone. The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or someone who is not an employee of the employer, such as a client or customer.

Although the law doesn’t prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not very serious, harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted).

Examples of National Origin Discrimination:
  • An applicant is not hired because he or she has a dark complexion and an accent believed to be African.
  • An employee is harassed because he or she is Arab or practices Islam, or is paid less than other workers because he or she is Mexican.
  • A Chinese woman is not hired because the employer believes she is from Vietnam.
  • An employee is harassed by coworkers for wearing a hijab.
  • An employee is harassed because her husband is originally from Afghanistan, or is not promoted because she attends a mosque.

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