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What constitutes national origin discrimination?

On Behalf of | Feb 22, 2021 | Workplace Discrimination |

Discrimination based on national origin includes some aspects of race discrimination, but it focuses on the person’s country of origin. In the United States, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits national origin discrimination in many aspects of employment, including:

  • Recruitment
  • Hiring
  • Promotion
  • Segregation
  • Firing
  • Layoffs

National origin discrimination generally means treating a job applicant or employee differently because of their birthplace, ancestry, culture or linguistic characteristics.

Title VII does not prohibit refusing to employ someone who does not have the proper work authorization as an immigrant, according to the EEOC. However, it generally does require employers to treat all immigrants with work authorizations equally. Employers may not, for example, decide to hire only U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents. This applies in recruitment, referral, hiring and firing.

It is also unlawful to discriminate against a U.S. citizen based on their country of birth or factors such as:

  • Marriage to or association with people of a certain national origin or ethnic group
  • Membership or association with ethnic promotion groups
  • Attendance or participation in schools, temples, mosques or churches that are associated with a particular ethnic group or national origin
  • Having a surname that is associated with a particular ethnic group or national origin
  • The perception that an individual is of a particular national origin or ethnic group, even if they are not

Examples of national origin discrimination

Employers covered by Title VII may not make employment decisions based on an employee’s foreign accent unless 1) effective spoken communication in English is necessary to perform the job and the person’s accent materially interferes with their ability to communicate in English.

Employers may not require their workers to be fluent in English unless English fluency is actually necessary for effective performance of the specific position’s job duties.

Employers may not require employees to speak only English during working hours unless it is genuinely necessary to promote safe and efficient job performance or business operations. English-only rules must only be put in place for non-discriminatory reasons.


Title VII also prohibits harassment based on national origin or ethnicity. That said, to be unlawful, the harassment must be severe and/or pervasive enough to create a hostile work environment.

Harassment could include ethnic slurs, jokes, graffiti, shunning, other offensive conduct or even physical violence directed at an employee based on their country of origin, birthplace, ethnicity, language, culture, dress or accent.

When employers become aware of harassment or discrimination, they have the legal duty to take reasonable, appropriate steps to prevent and correct it.


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