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The truth about discrimination based on national origin - II

In today's post, we'll continue our discussion concerning discrimination based on national origin, an especially pernicious and surprisingly prevalent form of illegal workplace bias.

To recap, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission defines national origin discrimination as treating a prospective employee or employee unfavorably "because of ethnicity or accent, or because they appear to be of a certain ethnic background." Furthermore, as we started exploring last time, it's important to understand that this otherwise prohibited conduct can occur outside the hiring and firing process. 


The law sometimes isn't quite so clear when it comes to what constitutes prohibited harassment based on grounds like national origin. That's because things like isolated incidents, flippant comments or offhanded jokes that are relatively trivial in nature are not considered illegal.

What is illegal, however, is when these incidents, comments and jokes rise to the level of being derogatory/offensive, and become so severe and/or frequent that they:

  • Create a hostile workplace, or
  • Lead to an adverse employment decision, including demotion or termination

Employment practices

The law is considerably clearer when it comes to defining what constitutes an illegal employment policy that discriminates based on national origin.

Specifically, the law prohibits employers from introducing universal policies or procedures if:

  • It will have a disproportionately negative impact on employees of a certain national origin and;
  • It is neither related to nor necessary for business operations

This issue frequently arises in the context of so-called "English-only rules," which while not impermissible, must nevertheless satisfy these two elements.  

What all of this really serves to underscore is that this is a very complex area of the law and, as such, you should give very serious consideration to speaking with an experienced legal professional if you have even the slightest suspicion that you have been victimized by discrimination based on national origin. 

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