The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently updated its guidance on national origin discrimination. Employers are prohibited from discriminating against an employee based on his or her national origin (i.e. country of birth or the country from which one’s ancestors arrived) by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC, which enforces Title VII, has periodically provided guidance to employers on how to comply with the law. This was the first time that the agency had updated its guidance on national origin discrimination since 2002, and the updates are intended to address cultural changes that have taken place in the workplace since then.
Here are some important takeaways for employers from the guidance:
- It is illegal to discriminate against someone based on a perception that he or she came from a certain part of the world, even if that perception is untrue. So, it would be illegal for an employer to refuse to hire someone because the employer thinks he is Jamaican, even if it turned out that the person was not actually from Jamaica.
- It is illegal to discriminate in hiring based on the preferences of clients, shareholders, or anyone else. An employer cannot refuse to hire people of a certain nationality even if doing so will cause the employer to lose a client who refuses to work with members of that nationality.
- An employer can only decide not to hire someone based on that person’s accent or fluency in English if this would impact the person’s performance of the job. So, an employer cannot refuse to hire a computer programmer because he or she has a thick accent if that programmer will not be communicating with clients. An employer could, however, refuse to hire someone with limited English fluency to work as a telemarketer.
- An employer cannot discriminate against an employee based on the ethnicity of whom that person associates with. So, an employer cannot refuse to hire an employee because that employee is in an interracial relationship, for example.
- It is illegal to engage in national origin discrimination against an individual in all aspects of the employer relationship. This includes recruitment, hiring, promotion, work assignments, pay, discipline, training, etc.
Employers will be liable if their supervisors engage in national origin discrimination, even if the employer was unaware of the discrimination and does not condone it. Therefore, employers should make sure that their supervisors are well-trained in what conduct violates the law. Even an off-hand remark meant to be humorous can subject an employer to employment liability. Contact Ancel Glink if you are interested in a workplace training program aimed at educating employees about workplace laws.