National Origin Discrimination

People from around the world are coming to the United States in search of jobs and that influx of diversity provides employers with new talents and perspectives that richly enhance their workforce.  At the same time, employers must recognize the different languages, cultures, and religions in the workplace and learn how to effectively communicate and implement policies and practices to an increasingly diverse group of employees.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is the federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of national origin. Many states also have similar civil rights laws that prohibit employers from discriminating on the basis of national origin or ancestry.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) published guidance states that "national origin discrimination" means treating someone less favorably because he's from a certain place or belongs to a particular national origin group.

A "national origin group" is a group of people sharing a common language, culture, ancestry, and/or other similar social characteristics. According to the EEOC’s guidance, the prohibition against national origin discrimination includes discrimination against any national origin group, including larger ethnic groups (such as Hispanics or Arabs) and smaller groups (such as Kurds).

The prohibited discrimination encompasses discrimination based on ethnicity, physical, linguistic, or cultural traits, or an employer's perception that an individual is a member of a particular national origin group.

National origin discrimination often overlaps with race discrimination or religious discrimination. For example, an Egyptian Muslim who's subjected to harassment about his Arab ethnicity and to derogatory comments about Islam would have a claim based on both national origin and religious discrimination. The EEOC’s guidance states that employers may not rely on customer or coworker preference as a basis for discrimination.

Accent Discrimination and Fluency Requirements

Personnel decisions based on accent are closely scrutinized because linguistic characteristics are an element of national origin. But an employer may base an employment decision on accent if the job in question requires effective oral communication in English and the individual's accent significantly interferes with the ability to communicate orally in English. Similarly, fluency requirements are permissible if required for the effective performance of the particular job.

English-only Rules

 The EEOC’s guidance states that an "English-only" rule is permissible if the employer needs it to operate safely or efficiently.

Citizenship Requirements

The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA) contains a provision that prohibits employers from discriminating in hiring, firing, recruiting, or referring on the basis of national origin or citizenship status. IRCA allows employers to prefer a citizen over a lawful alien in hiring, recruiting, or referring for employment if the two are equally qualified for the job. However, the EEOC has made it clear that citizenship preferences may violate Title VII if they disproportionately disqualify individuals of a particular national origin and are not justified by business necessity.