Unfortunately, employers sometimes make hiring, firing, promotion, and compensation decisions based on an employee's national origin. This is illegal under federal law, as well as the laws of many state laws. Employees who believe 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. Additionally, they may sue their employer if the federal complaint does not bring a solution. Read through this section to learn about national origin discrimination in the workplace, including what kinds of behaviors are discriminatory, and how to bring a complaint.
National Origin and Racial Discrimination at Work
National origin or racial discrimination occurs when a person is treated unfavorably because of their race, color, complexion of their skin, or their national origin. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 forbids employers with more than 15 employees from discriminating against employees for their race, color, or national origin, as well as those associated with a person, organization, or group connected to a particular race, color, or national origin.
Even facially neutral policies may be forbidden under Title VII if it has a negative impact on people of a particular race, color, or national origin and the policy is unrelated to the job and unnecessary for the operation of the business. The law also forbids harassment, which may include the use by employees and the employer of racial slurs, derogatory remarks, and the display of racially offensive symbols where the behavior is frequent and severe enough to create a hostile work environment or results in an adverse employment decision against the victim.
Discrimination on the basis of the physical characteristics of a particular race is also forbidden. Characteristics such as hair texture, skin color, facial features, and height may not form the basis for discrimination unless there are relevant aspects of the job that make the characteristic at issue necessary. Neutral policies with a discriminatory impact may also be forbidden. Employers may not isolate members of a certain race to a physical area or away from customer contact.
National Origin Discrimination and English-Language Only Rules
Some workplaces have attempted to implement rules requiring that only English be used on the job. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency responsible for enforcing federal anti-discrimination laws in the employment context, has viewed this kind of employer policy with suspicion. Courts have issued split decisions on the matter, creating some confusion about whether such a policy is permitted. Critics point out that those likely to be penalized under rules of this sort are almost always immigrants.
In response to the debate the EEOC has issued regulations indicating that they recognize an individual's primary language as an essential characteristic of a person's national origin. They indicate that preventing an employee from communicating in the language they are most comfortable speaking has the effect of placing that person at a disadvantage concerning employment opportunities and is presumptively violate of Title VII. An English-only rule that is in effect only at certain times is permitted if there is a business necessity. A radio disk jockey, for example, might be compelled to speak English-only on the air if the employer is specifically seeking to reach an English speaking audience. If such a rule is implemented the EEOC requires that a written notice of the policy and its business consideration be distributed before putting the policy in place.