National Origin Discrimination


National origin discrimination at work involves treating people (applicants or employees) unfavorably because they are from a particular country or part of the world, because of ethnicity or accent, or because they appear to be of a certain ethnic background (even if they are not).

National origin discrimination also can involve treating people unfavorably because they are married to (or associated with) a person of a certain national origin or because of their connection with an ethnic organization or group. Discrimination can occur when the victim and the person who inflicted the discrimination are the same national origin.

National Origin Discrimination At Work

The law forbids discrimination when it comes to any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, fringe benefits, and any other term or condition of employment. It is wrongful termination to fire somebody on the basis of their national origin. It is also a prohibited discriminatory practice to give preferential job assignments based on national origin. One of our cases involves giving members of one national origin overtime and private rides to job assignments members of other national origins do not receive. While natural bonding may occur based upon similar backgrounds and language, it is inappropriate to give preferential treatment to employees based upon their national origin.

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National Harassment

It is unlawful to harass a person because of his or her national origin. Harassment can include, for example, offensive or derogatory remarks about a person’s national origin, accent or ethnicity. Although the law doesn’t prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not very serious, harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted).

The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or someone who is not an employee of the employer, such as a client or customer.

National Origin & Employment Policies/Practices


The law makes it illegal for an employer or other covered entity to use an employment policy or practice that applies to everyone, regardless of national origin, if it has a negative impact on people of a certain national origin and is not job-related or necessary to the operation of the business.

An employer can only require an employee to speak fluent English if fluency in English is necessary to perform the job effectively. An “English-only rule”, which requires employees to speak only English on the job, is only allowed if it is needed to ensure the safe or efficient operation of the employer’s business and is put in place for nondiscriminatory reasons. For safety reasons it is permissible for an employer to require that certain communications be in English. For example, in oil field work it is important that job orders be called out over the radios in English in order to make sure all employees understand what other employees are doing in oil operation.

We have handled reverse discrimination cases in which American born employees feel discriminated against because workplace meetings occur in Spanish or another language. In a Lancaster retail operation case a black employee sued because store meetings were typically in Spanish. His ability to move up in the company was thwarted because he could not understand the nature of the meetings. In addition, he was potentially missing out on important objectives of the employer because the meetings were in Spanish.

Due to national origin discrimination laws an employer may not base an employment decision on an employee’s foreign accent, unless the accent seriously interferes with the employee’s job performance. It is suspicious when an employer suddenly raises the employee’s accent as a reason for employment termination after many years of successful employment.

Citizenship Discrimination & Workplace Laws

The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA) makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate with respect to hiring, firing, or recruitment or referral for a fee, based upon an individual’s citizenship or immigration status. The law prohibits employers from hiring only U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents unless required to do so by law, regulation or government contract. Employers may not refuse to accept lawful documentation that establishes the employment eligibility of an employee, or demand additional documentation beyond what is legally required, when verifying employment eligibility (i.e., completing the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Form I-9), based on the employee’s national origin or citizenship status. It is the employee’s choice which of the acceptable Form I-9 documents to show to verify employment eligibility.

IRCA also prohibits retaliation against individuals for asserting their rights under the Act, or for filing a charge or assisting in an investigation or proceeding under IRCA.

In 2014 the California Supreme Court made it possible to sue for employment discrimination even if the employee is not legally authorized to work. Although the worker’s past and future lost wages are cut off from the date the employer can establish (if it can) it would have had to terminate the employee due to improper work papers, the employee can still obtain lost wages up to that time, punitive damages, damages for emotional distress, and attorney fees.

If you have questions about whether you are the victim of national origin discrimination at work call our California discrimination attorneys at 1-877-525-0700.

We take all workplace discrimination cases on a contingency. This means there are not any upfront costs or fees. We are only paid when and if we are able to obtain monetary recovery from the employer.