Immigration, Ethnicity, and Language – Protecting Your Workplace Rights Based on Your National Origin

Feb 7 2019

The United States is home to more immigrants than any other country in the world.  In fact, more than 40 million immigrants live in the United States, nearly quadruple the next largest population in Germany.  And our economy benefits greatly — immigrants make up approximately 17% of the labor force in the United States.

Unfortunately, while immigration has always been a cornerstone of American society, culture, and labor, the narrative has not always put immigrants in a positive light.  Xenophobic rhetoric negatively impacts everyday life for immigrants, including life at work.  Imagine experiencing hatred at work just because you weren’t born in the United States.  Words like “go back to your country” or “learn to speak English” are, unfortunately, all too common in the workplace.

The good news is that you have legal protection against discrimination on the basis of your national origin.  This “national origin” protection actually expands farther than immigrants alone.  It means that the law forbids any type of discrimination against a person who (a) is from a certain country or part of the world, (b) has a certain ethnicity or accent, (c) appears to be a certain ethnicity or background even if s/he is not, or (d) is married to a person who would be protected.  As reported by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, both federal and state laws protect you from the following:

  • Discrimination with respect to hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, fringe benefits, and any other term or condition of employment;
  • Harassment, i.e. offensive or derogatory comments that are so severe or pervasive that it results in a hostile work environment;
  • Discriminatory policies or practices implementing an “English-only” rule, unless such a rule is needed to promote a safe or efficient operation of the employer’s business.

It is important to remember, too, that a person of the same national origin can still be the person engaging in the discriminatory conduct.

In addition to protections against national origin discrimination, federal law protects immigrants from discrimination based on an employee’s citizenship or immigration status.  The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 prohibits employers from hiring only United States citizens or lawful permanent residents unless required to do so by law, regulation, or government contract; an employer must accept lawful documentation establishing employment eligibility.  If an employer violates any part of IRCA, you may report the issue or assist in a related investigation,  and IRCA will protect you from retaliation.

So what do you do if someone at work is discriminating against you based on your national origin or immigration status?  Here are a few concrete steps that you can take:

  • Gather evidence – Keep records of all discriminatory acts against you. This includes emails, performance reviews, notes, and witness testimony.
  • Tell someone – If you feel subjected to discrimination, make sure you speak up. Talk with a manager or an HR representative, tell him/her about the discrimination, and communicate that you want it to stop.
  • File a complaint – If the discrimination continues, then you should file a complaint with your company. Make sure you know and follow the rules in your employer’s policy.
  • Talk with an employment lawyer – Even after the complaint has been filled, if the discrimination is still occurring then it may be time to start thinking about a lawyer.

If the last step is relevant to you, consider the experienced national origin discrimination lawyers at Garrison, Levin-Epstein, Fitzgerald & Pirrotti, P.C.  We can advise you and give you possible solutions to resolve your issues at work.

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Protecting Your Workplace Rights Based on Your National Origin

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