National origin is a protected category under both federal and state law for employees here in Ohio. That means it’s illegal to discriminate against employees or applicants because of their nationality – either real or perceived.
That protection extends to discrimination against someone whose parents, grandparents or even relatives further back came here from another country. It also includes those who are discriminated against because they’re married to someone born outside the U.S.
The role of accents and English fluency
A person’s accent or English language skills can only be a legitimate issue if they affect their ability to do their job. For example, a customer service representative manning a toll-free number needs to be understood by the customers they’re assisting.
Prejudices against people based on national origin are often centered around their accent – even if they speak fluent English. Some employers have an issue with employees who may speak to one another in their native language.
An employer cannot make decisions based on an employee’s accent unless the workers’ accent materially interferes with their ability to communicate as required by the job. Fluency in English is only permitted if it is necessary for the performance of their job.
Are “English only” rules legal?
In most cases, employers can’t have a blanket “English only” rule that extends to non-work-related conversations. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, “A workplace English-only rule that is applied only at certain times may be adopted only under very limited circumstances that are justified by business necessity.”
It’s crucial to understand what discrimination based on a person’s national origin can involve. It’s often not as clear-cut as having a manager or co-worker say something disparaging about a particular group. It can be far more subtle.
However, it can still affect a person’s ability to get a job, to move up in their company or to keep their job. If you believe you’ve been the victim of workplace discrimination based on national origin – real or perceived – you have a right to address the issue and fight for your rights.