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U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

National Origin Discrimination - FAQs

Select any of the questions below to get quick answers to some common questions about national origin discrimination.

  1. What are some examples of national origin harassment?
  2. Is it illegal for someone to discriminate against or harass someone of his or her own ethnic group?
  3. Is it illegal to be discriminated against or harassed because of your national origin and some other prohibited reason, like race?
  4. Can my employer ask about my national origin?
  5. Can my employer discriminate against or harass me if I have a friend or parent of a particular national origin?
  6. Is it illegal for someone to discriminate against or harass certain members of an ethnic group, but not others?
  7. Can my employer discriminate against me because I have an accent?
  8. Can my employer require me to be fluent in English?
  9. Can my employer require me to speak only English at work?
  10. Am I protected by U.S. discrimination laws if I am not a U.S. citizen or if I do not have proper work authorization?
  11. Can an employer discriminate against me because its customers prefer workers of a particular national origin?
  12. Can my employer discriminate against me because it mistakenly believes I am of a particular ethnicity?
  13. Can my employer prohibit me from wearing ethnic dress, such as traditional African or Indian attire, at work?
  14. Can my employer punish me for reporting what I think is national origin discrimination?

What are some examples of national origin harassment?

National origin harassment involves unwelcome and offensive conduct in the workplace that is based on an individual's ethnicity or place of origin. The harasser can be your supervisor, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or someone who does not work for your employer, such as a client or customer. National origin harassment can include ethnic slurs, jokes, offensive or derogatory comments, or other verbal or physical conduct based on an individual's national origin.


Is it illegal for someone to discriminate against or harass someone of his or her own ethnic group?

Yes. It is illegal for people to discriminate against people of their own ethnic group. For example, a Peruvian manager may not discriminate against a Bolivian employee, even though they are both Hispanic.


Is it illegal to be discriminated against or harassed because of your national origin and some other prohibited reason, like race?

Yes. It is illegal to be discriminated against because of the combination of your national origin and some other protected category, like race or sex. For example, it is illegal for a restaurant to refuse to hire Asian females as servers, even if it hires other females and Asian males.


Can my employer ask about my national origin?

Federal law does not prohibit employers from asking you about your national origin. However, because such questions may indicate a possible intent to discriminate based on national origin, we recommend that employers ensure that they ask about national origin only for a lawful purpose. For example, your employer may need information about your ethnicity for affirmative action purposes or to comply with government laws that require the reporting of ethnicity information.


Can my employer discriminate against or harass me if I have a friend or parent of a particular national origin?

No. The laws enforced by EEOC prohibit an employer from treating you differently or harassing you because your friends, parents, or other people you associate with are of a particular national origin. You also may not be discriminated against or harassed because you belong to an ethnic organization or attend schools or places of worship associated with a particular national origin.


Is it illegal for someone to discriminate against or harass certain members of an ethnic group, but not others?

Yes. It is illegal for someone to discriminate against or harass a sub-set of a particular ethnic group. For example, a manager may not treat Black Cubans and White Cubans differently based on a racial, ethnic, or religious stereotype.


Can my employer discriminate against me because I have an accent?

An employer may base a job decision on your accent if your accent would materially interfere with your ability to perform the job. In all other cases, an employer may not treat you differently or harass you because of your accent. For example, an employer could refuse to hire someone whose accent interferes with his or her ability to communicate orally in English for a customer service job that requires extensive communication with English-speaking customers. However an employer could not refuse to hire the same person for a job that requires little, if any, spoken communication skills.


Can my employer require me to be fluent in English?

An employer may require you to be fluent in written or spoken English but only if it is necessary for effective job performance. For example, an employer may refuse to hire an applicant with limited written English skills for an editor position that requires extensive writing in English, but could not refuse to hire the same individual for a stockroom position that did not require any written English skills.


Can my employer require me to speak only English at work?

An employer is permitted to adopt an English-only rule if it is necessary to promote workplace safety or efficiency. For example, an employer may require employees to speak only English during emergency situations or when talking to customers who only speak English. An employer also may not adopt an English-only rule for a discriminatory reason, such as to exclude all Hispanics from its workforce. In addition, an employer may not adopt an English-only rule that prohibits some, but not all, of the foreign languages spoken in a particular workplace.

Even where an English-only rule has been adopted for non-discriminatory reasons, an employer's use of the rule should relate to specific circumstances in the workplace and should be as narrowly tailored as possible.


Am I protected by U.S. discrimination laws if I am not a U.S. citizen or if I do not have proper work authorization?

Yes. The federal discrimination laws protect all job applicants and employees, regardless of citizenship or work authorization.


Can an employer discriminate against me because its customers prefer workers of a particular national origin?

No. An employer cannot discriminate against a job applicant or employee because of customer or co-worker preference. For example, a bus company may not fire a Lebanese driver just because some riders complain that they are afraid to ride on the employee's bus because they mistakenly believe he is Arab and are concerned about terrorism.


Can my employer discriminate against me because it mistakenly believes I am of a particular ethnicity?

No. An employer cannot discriminate against or harass you because you appear to have a particular ethnic background. For example, it is illegal for your manager to harass you because he believes you are Arab, even if you are not.


Can my employer prohibit me from wearing ethnic dress, such as traditional African or Indian attire, at work?

Your employer may require all employees to follow a uniform dress code, even if the dress code conflicts with some workers' ethnic beliefs or practices. However, your employer cannot prohibit certain kinds of ethnic dress, such as African or Indian attire, while permitting other types of casual dress. Your employer also may need to make changes to its dress code if it conflicts with an employee's religious, rather than ethnic, beliefs.


Can my employer punish me for reporting what I think is national origin discrimination?

No. It is illegal for your employer to punish you, treat you differently, or harass you because you report discrimination to someone at your company, to EEOC, or to your parents, your teacher, or another trusted adult. This is true even if it turns out that the conduct you complained about is not found to be discrimination. We refer to this as your right to be protected from retaliation.