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What is national origin discrimination?

Although we often talk about racial discrimination in California, there is another, more insidious, type of discrimination that could be considered equally egregious: discrimination based on national origin. This larger umbrella captures discrimination against employees because they appear to belong to a certain ethnic group, but it also extends to those who hail from certain parts of the world, display an accent or even are married to a person of a particular ethnicity. You may be surprised to learn that discrimination may even occur between two workers who share the same national origin.

Equal opportunity employment laws prohibit employers from instituting mandatory rules that have a negative impact on certain groups without significantly impacting workplace outcomes. For example, many employers have required that employees only speak English while they are on the job. Although this may make sense in a customer-service setting in which most clients are more likely to speak English, it is less likely to be useful in a more private work environment such as an office setting.

Federal and state law prohibit discrimination based on any aspect of employment. That means that an employer cannot involve your ethnic heritage in any decision based on hiring, firing, promotions, layoffs, job assignments, benefits or any other aspect of employment. Furthermore, you are protected from harassment that causes a hostile work environment or other serious situation in which the victim is demoted or fired. A harasser does not have to be your supervisor; the perpetrator can also be a coworker, client or customer.

Every California employee deserves to feel safe and valued at his or her workplace. Discrimination based on national origin has no place in our business establishments. Victims who believe that they have been targeted for their ethnic heritage may be entitled to financial compensation for their experience on the job.

Source: U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, "National Origin Discrimination," accessed Aug. 18, 2015

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