In the United States, it is illegal for most employers to discriminate against someone based on their national origin. National origin is a protected class under U.S. law, as are:
- Age (40 and older)
- Genetic information
U.S. anti-discrimination laws apply to most employers. They cover employers who have a certain number of employees — typically 15 or 20. They apply to private sector employers, municipalities, state agencies, federal agencies and government contractors.
These employers are not allowed to discriminate in hiring, firing, promotions, assignments or any aspect of employment.
Unfortunately, there are still instances in which national origin discrimination happens. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the federal agency that enforces our nation’s anti-discrimination laws. It provides some examples of what national origin discrimination may look like:
- Discrimination based on the person’s appearance, customs or language
- Discrimination based on the employer’s perception of the person’s national origin
- Discrimination based on association with a particular national origin group — for example, attendance at a particular school or having a particular last name
- Discrimination based on accent, unless the accent actually interferes with the person’s ability to do the job
- Harassment based on national origin, including ethnic slurs, comments about immigration status, making fun of a person’s accent, or other actions that create an intimidating, hostile or offensive working environment
- Requirements that English be the only language spoken on the job unless the employer can prove this is justified by a business necessity
- Discrimination based on citizenship status
- Actions that have a disparate impact upon people based on their national origin, including minimum height requirements, high school diploma requirements, and bars against people with criminal records, unless the employer can show that these are related to the job and are necessary for the company to operate safely or efficiently
- Retaliation for making a good faith discrimination complaint or for participating in a discrimination or harassment investigation.
It is also illegal to discriminate against immigrants based on the other classes protected by federal law.
If I suspect national origin discrimination, what should I do?
In America, you have the right to work without being subject to employment discrimination. If you think your employer has discriminated against you, you may be able to stop the discrimination and keep your job. Or, you may be able to force the company to pay you money.
You should talk to an attorney before taking any steps at work. Your attorney can help you determine whether national origin discrimination has occurred and what to do about it. This could include filing a complaint with the company, filing a complaint with a state or federal agency, or filing a lawsuit.