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Facts About National Origin Discrimination

This guidance document was issued upon approval of the Chair of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

OLC Control # EEOC-NVTA-0000-19
Title Fact Sheet: National Origin Discrimination
Date Issued
General Topics National Origin
Summary This document provides information about forms of national origin employment discrimination, including because of birthplace, ancestry, culture, or linguistic characteristics closely associated with an ethnic group.
Date Posted 15-Jan-97
Statutes/Authorities Involved Title VII, 29 CFR Part 1606
Audience Employees, Employers, Applicants, HR Practitioners
Revision No

The contents of this document do not have the force and effect of law and are not meant to bind the public in any way. This document is intended only to provide clarity to the public regarding existing requirements under the law or agency policies.

Whether an individual (or her ancestors) is from China, Russia, or Nigeria, or belongs to an ethnic group, such as Hispanic or Arab, she is entitled to the same employment opportunities as anyone else. EEOC enforces the federal prohibition against national origin discrimination in employment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which covers private sector employers with fifteen or more employees, federal government employers, employment agencies, and labor organizations.

About National Origin Discrimination

It is unlawful to discriminate against any employee or job applicant because of the individual's national origin. No one can be denied equal employment opportunity because of birthplace, ancestry, culture, or linguistic characteristics closely associated with an ethnic group. Equal employment opportunity cannot be denied because of marriage or association with persons of a national origin group; membership or association with specific ethnic promotion groups; attendance or participation in schools, churches, temples or mosques generally associated with a national origin group; or a surname associated with a national origin group. Examples of violations covered under Title VII include:

Employment Decisions

Title VII prohibits employment decisions, including those involving recruitment, hiring, promotion, segregation, and firing or layoffs, that have the purpose or effect of discriminating based on national origin.

Harassment

Title VII prohibits national origin harassment when it is so severe or pervasive that it creates a hostile work environment.  A hostile work environment based on national origin can take different forms, including ethnic slurs, workplace graffiti, physical violence, or other offensive conduct directed towards an individual because of birthplace, ethnicity, culture, language, dress, or foreign accent.  Employers are required to take appropriate steps to prevent and correct unlawful harassment. Likewise, employees are responsible for reporting harassment at an early stage to prevent its escalation.

Language

  • Accent discrimination

    An employer may not base a decision on an employee's foreign accent unless effective spoken communication in English is required to perform job duties and the individual's accent materially interferes with her ability to communicate in English.
  • Fluency requirements

    An English (or foreign language) fluency requirement is only permissible if it is required for the effective performance of the position for which it is imposed.
  • English-only rules

    English-only rules must be adopted for nondiscriminatory reasons. An English-only rule may be used if it is needed to promote safe and efficient job performance or safe and efficient business operations.  Employers must provide adequate notice of English-only rules.

Citizenship Issues

  • U.S. citizenship requirements

    Title VII does not prohibit citizenship discrimination.  Title VII is violated, however, whenever citizenship discrimination has the purpose or effect of discriminating on the basis of national origin.  The anti-discrimination provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act, enforced by the Immigrant and Employee Rights Section of the U.S. Department of Justice, prohibits employers with four or more employees from discriminating because of citizenship status against U.S. citizens and certain classes of foreign nationals authorized to work in the United States with respect to hiring, firing, and recruitment or referral for a fee.
  • Coverage of foreign nationals

    Title VII and the other antidiscrimination laws prohibit discrimination against individuals employed in the United States, regardless of immigration status or authorization to work.