The United States is, except for the Native American population, a nation of immigrants. Nonetheless, every group of immigrants that has come (or been brought against their will) to this country has had to go through difficult challenges, and sometimes outrageous brutality, to be accepted into the fabric of American culture. Amazingly, this has also happened (and continues to happen) to Native Americans who were here to begin with! Irish, Swedish, German, Italian, Russian, Mexican, El Salvadorian, Dominican, Jamaican, Iranian, Syrian, Nigerian, and any other immigrants you can think of, typically go through a discomforting, often dangerous, rite of passage until they are accepted as Americans. Many immigrants are going through such a process now. It might seem strange that those who have overcome such challenges then impose them on those who come to this country after them, but that is often the case.

At Tand & Associates, we work on both sides of the aisle to combat national origin discrimination, assisting employees who suffer the indignity and injustice of such discrimination and helping employers to establish regulations to prevent it from occurring in the first place.

How is national origin discrimination exhibited?

Discrimination against “foreigners’ is shown in many ways, including less than welcoming looks and comments, slurs and other expressions of bigotry, taunting and humiliating, and even, in extreme cases, physical attacks. Fortunately, of course, many among us welcome immigrants with open arms, interested in their food, clothing, religious practices, celebrations and holidays, habits and language. Nonetheless, discrimination continues to rear its ugly head in regard to:

  • Housing
  • Education
  • Membership in organizations and clubs
  • Employment

In the workplace, which is our focus here, national origin discrimination involves treating people (applicants or employees) unfairly simply because they are from a particular country or part of the world, because of their ethnicity or accent, or because they appear to be of a certain ethnic background, whether they are or not. An example of the latter is attacked on Sikhs who, during a period of intense Islamophobia were considered by some to be Muslims (though they adhere to an entirely different set of belief), and victimized as a result.

Laws to Protect You From National Origin Discrimination

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces the federal prohibition against national origin discrimination in employment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This law covers private sector employers with 15 or more employees, federal government employers, employment agencies, and labor organizations. New York law is even stricter, covering all companies employing four or more employees.

What defines national origin discrimination?

National origin discrimination involves unfair treatment of a job applicant or employee because of national origin or birthplace, ancestry, language or accent, culture or ethnic group. Anti-discrimination employment laws also apply to those who are the spouses, relatives, friends or members of a group including those of a particular nationality and to those who have first or last names associated with a particular ethnicity. Violations covered under federal and state laws include any of the following based on country of origin or ethnicity:

  • Employment decisions: recruitment, hiring, promotion, segregation, and termination
  • Harassment: slurs, taunts, offensive materials, graffiti directed at a person perceived as ethnically “different” because of birthplace, language, accent, clothing, or custom
  • English language requirements unless essential to the job
  • Citizenship, assuming the employee is authorized to work in the U.S.

When “English Only Is Unfair”

While an employer may require an English-speaking employee for the safety or effective performance of a particular job, it is illegal to require English language skills in jobs in which such skills make no substantive difference. Also, it is almost never justifiable for an employer to require employees to speak English in the workplace during breaks or lunch periods. Such restrictions imply that employees who speak to one another in another language are saying malicious things or plotting subversion, when in fact they are simply speaking in their native tongue.

How Citizenship Requirements Become a Basis for Discrimination

According to the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1996, employers with four or more employees may not discriminate against non-citizens if those individuals have proper authorization to work in this country. Employers are responsible, however, for verifying that their employees do actually have valid authorization. To ensure an absence of discrimination, employers must ask all employees for the necessary authorization, not only potential hires with accents, unfamiliar clothing, or accents. The only places in which employers can insist on U.S. citizenship are those in which such citizenship is required by federal, state or local law, or by government contract.

The law requires that employers treat all employees who are authorized to work equally. This means an employer is not permitted to make decisions regarding hiring, promotions, benefits, layoffs, or terminations based on whether or not you are a citizen or according to what stage of the immigration process you’re in. You may be a permanent resident, a temporary resident, someone who has been granted asylum, or a refuge; as long as you have valid working authorization, you must be treated like any other employee. The one exception to this rule is that in order to be protected from citizenship discrimination, permanent residents must apply for citizenship within 6 months of eligibility.

When Types of Discrimination Overlap

There are many instances in which you may be subjected to bigotry and harassment for more than one reason. You might, for example, be an Egyptian discriminated against both because of your birthplace and your Muslim faith, a Nigerian discriminated against because of your race and your ethnicity, or a gay Mexican discriminated against because of your sexual orientation as well as your country of origin.

“Neutral Policies” that Target Certain Groups

The law not only prohibits discriminatory employment decisions that are easily traceable to bigotry against immigrants or people of certain nationalities but also prohibits employers from using so-called “neutral” rules with discriminatory intent and effect. An example of the latter would be a law that prohibits men or women from wearing head coverings which may interfere with their cultural identity or religious beliefs. There are, of course, possible clothing restrictions which may be invoked for safety reasons, such as not wearing longs veils, scarves or robes when working with heavy machinery; these restrictions will be allowed.

Non-Retaliation Clauses

You always have the right to complain about being the target of discrimination of any kind the law defines. It is illegal for your employer to punish you for bringing the issue of discrimination to his or her attention. This means if you have been demoted, denied a promotion, or terminated because of your complaint of discrimination, you will likely have a good case against your employer.

Don’t Be a Victim

One thing you can be sure of is that discrimination, if not reported and nipped in the bud, will escalate. That’s why it is essential that you complain immediately about being attacked verbally or about being passed over for a promotion that should have been yours except for discriminatory behavior. If you don’t receive a proper remedy at your workplace, you should consult with the experienced employment attorneys at Tand & Associates who will see to it that you receive a just settlement either with or without litigation.

How to Avoid Unnecessary Hardship in Your Company

On the other hand, if you are a modern, well-intentioned employer, Tand & Associates will work with you to prevent national origin discrimination in your company. We are well-prepared to assist you in establishing appropriate policies to protect yourself and your employees from harassment as well as from unfounded allegations.