Understanding National Origin Discrimination in the Workplace

State and federal laws do not tolerate discriminatory bias in the workplace.

That includes a prohibition against discrimination based on national origin.

If your employer treats you differently because of your national origin, perceived origin, or association with individuals of a specific nationality, your employer has broken the law.

You can recover damages through a lawsuit or government complaint against your employer’s unlawful discrimination. 

If you believe that your employer has discriminated against you based on your national origin, please contact the employment lawyers at Workplace Rights Law Group today. 

What Is Employment Discrimination? 

Under state and federal laws, an employer cannot treat an employee or prospective employee poorly or unequally because of the following reasons: 

  • Age (40 or older),
  • Ancestry,
  • Color,
  • Disability, 
  • Gender,
  • Genetics, 
  • Marital status,
  • Medical condition,
  • Military status,
  • National origin, 
  • Race,
  • Religion, 
  • Sex, or 
  • Veteran status. 

Multiple anti-discrimination laws protect the characteristics listed above. 

What Is National Origin Discrimination?

National origin discrimination can be someone singling you out because of where you or your family were born.

This type of discrimination can also be someone mistreating you because of characteristics associated with your nationality.

National origin discrimination examples include a workplace’s bias against the following:

  • Your name, 
  • Your cultural customs, 
  • Your immigration status, 
  • Your accent, or 
  • Your propensity to speak a language other than English. 

In fact, it is illegal for an employer to require that you speak only English in the workplace if the rule is not necessary for workplace safety and efficiency.

It is also illegal for an employer to make employment decisions based on your accent, unless your accent seriously interferes with your job performance.

For instance, if you have what your employer considers to be a “thick accent” and you are seeking a promotion to a position in which you write data analysis reports, and you do not deliver oral presentations, it could be discriminatory for your employer to deny you the promotion because of your accent. 

What About My Immigration Status? 

According to the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, it is illegal for an employer to base its hiring, firing, recruitment, or referral decisions on a candidate’s citizenship or immigration status.

Unless an employer is required by law to hire only U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents for a position, the employer cannot discriminate against an eligible employee or applicant because of their immigration status.

Also, it is an employee’s choice which government-approved documents to give an employer to prove their eligibility to work. 

Types of National Origin Discrimination

Unlawful employment discrimination in California based on national origin has two forms.

Your employer can engage in discrimination by making adverse employment decisions against you, and your employer can participate in discriminatory harassment.

If you are a victim of workplace discrimination, you might notice that your employer harasses you and makes biased employment decisions against you at the same time.

Whatever combination of discriminatory behavior your employer displays, you have a right to compensation and other legal relief.  

Adverse Employment Decisions Based on National Origin

If an employer denies you access to any employment benefit because of your national origin, they have committed unlawful discrimination.

Discriminatory adverse employment decisions that could subject your employer to legal consequences include:

  • Job termination,
  • Unequal pay,
  • Demotion,
  • Reduction in pay,
  • Unwanted job transfers,
  • Denials of benefits, 
  • Refusals to promote,
  • Exclusion from training, and
  • Refusals to hire.

If your employer commits one of the listed actions for discriminatory reasons, you can file a lawsuit, a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) complaint, or a California Civil Rights Division (CRD) complaint against your employer.

National origin harassment

Harassment is unwelcome conduct based on a protected characteristic. And workplace harassment is illegal when:

  • An employee must endure harassment to keep their job or other employment benefits; or 
  • The harassment is so extreme or pervasive that a reasonable person would identify the employee’s workplace as hostile.

Under the above categories, there are many subtle and not-so-subtle ways individuals experience national origin harassment in the workplace. 

When it comes to national origin discrimination, examples of harassing behavior include: 

  • Using ethnic slurs;
  • Making jokes about someone’s nationality, culture, ethnicity, or customs;
  • Using insults about someone’s national origin;
  • Displaying offensive images depicting stereotypes about someone’s nationality; 
  • Name-calling;
  • Making offensive gestures related to someone’s nationality or culture; and
  • Excluding someone based on their national origin or the national origin of people close to them. 

The law usually does not punish isolated incidents if they do not result in an adverse employment decision.

But if an above-listed action (or something similar) occurs more than once or happens in a severe manner, you likely have a right to legal remedies.

If your supervisor harasses you because of your national origin and takes an adverse employment action taken against you, your employer is automatically liable for the discriminatory behavior.

But if you claim that national origin harassment created a hostile work environment, your employer is not liable unless you prove the following:

  • Your employer did not reasonably try to prevent or address the harassment and 
  • You did not unreasonably fail to use your employer’s available procedures to correct or address the harassment. 

Proving these factors is not always easy, so you should immediately speak to an attorney about your case.

Talk to Our Employment Law Attorneys Today 

At the Workplace Rights Law Group, our California employment attorneys have more than 70 years of combined experience.

We understand how to defeat discriminatory employers in the courtroom and negotiation room. We also give each client the top-level advocacy large businesses and employers normally receive.

If you need help, please call us at 818-237-4116 or contact us online for a free case review. 


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