Recent events have highlighted discrimination against the Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community and people of Asian descent working in the United States. Although many people consider Asians and Asian-Americans to be “model minorities” and perceive them in a positive light, this designation is of little comfort to those who suffer from discrimination.
The AAPI community and people of Asian descent are by no means monolithic in their characteristics, opinions and experiences. However, many experience similar types of discrimination in the workplace and elsewhere. In the U.S., Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 offers protection for Asians in that it prohibits discrimination based on both race and national origin.
Title VII forbids all forms of workplace race discrimination by covered employers, including in hiring, termination, pay, benefits, job assignments, promotions, layoffs and any term or condition of employment. It also forbids harassment based on race and employer retaliation for making a good faith complaint of discrimination or harassment.
It’s important to note that Title VII’s prohibition on race discrimination requires employers to take reasonable actions to prevent harassment or discrimination by clients, customers and others who are not employees, whenever the employer has reason to know that the harassment or discrimination is occurring.
National origin discrimination and immigration status
The same is true of Title VII’s prohibition on national origin discrimination. Again, Title VII forbids discrimination and harassment in any aspect of employment. This includes policies and practices that seem neutral on their face but actually have a substantial, adverse effect on people based on their national origin.
For example, most employers may not require that their employees speak only in English during the workday, or base employment decisions based on an employee’s accent unless English is actually necessary to perform the job effectively, or if the accent seriously interferes with the worker’s job performance.
Additionally, the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA) prohibits discrimination in hiring, firing, recruitment or referral based on citizenship or immigration status. In other words, people who have authorization to work in the U.S. must be treated equally in employment decisions, regardless of their national origin.
Overall, now is a good time to consider what biases we may have in favor or against the AAPI community and people of Asian origin. Even a seemingly positive bias can put workers in an uncomfortable position and promote an atmosphere of discrimination.
If you have experienced discrimination at work, talk to an experienced employment law attorney about your rights and options before you take any concrete steps to address the problem.