Skip to main content

Preventing National Origin Discrimination

Man and woman in an office.

Original Source:

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") defines national origin discrimination as "including, but not limited to, the denial of equal employment opportunity because of an individual's, or his or her ancestor's, place of origin; or because an individual has the physical, cultural or linguistic characteristics of a national origin group."

In late 2016, the EEOC issued updated guidance regarding national origin, a protected basis under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

Less frequent than sex, race, or disability discrimination in the workplace, national origin discrimination still accounted for almost 11% of the total number of charges filed with the EEOC in fiscal year 2015, according to Mr. Little V. West of Holland & Hart, LLP.

NIH’s Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) statistics show individuals alleged national origin discrimination in 44% of Pre-Complaint Cases at NIH in FY2016.

What can employers like NIH and its individual hiring managers and first-line supervisors do in the workplace to protect against such discrimination – or even the perception of it?

Mr. West references a National Origin Discrimination Checklist that puts EEOC’s guidance into practical terms. It highlights human resources (HR) policies and employment practices to help organizations avoid liability for national origin discrimination or harassment.

  • Job applications and posts should include an equal employment opportunity statement.
  • When recruiting applicants and posting job openings, do not:
    • State a preference for (or against) a particular national origin (e.g., “looking for U.S.-born candidates”);
    • Rely only on word-of-mouth referrals from existing employees (which can keep the applicant pool too homogenous); or
    • Send job postings only to non-diverse outlets or communities.
  • Redact or hide names on initial review of applications and resumes to avoid reviewers being influenced by an ethnic name.
  • During interviews, do not ask candidates about their ethnic heritage, ancestry, accent, or any other direct or indirect questions about national origin despite curiosity or in an attempt to be friendly.
  • Conduct background checks or pre-employment testing on all candidates/employees in a particular job category to prevent singling out individuals with foreign-sounding names or accents for such tests.
  • Refrain from segregating or isolating employees based on their national origin (e.g., do not assign certain minorities to lower-paying positions or keep them away from the public).
  • Be careful about imposing an English-only language rule. Any restriction on language spoken at work must be job related and consistent with business necessity. It should not be imposed during employee breaks or other employee personal time while on the employer’s premises.
  • Make sure the organization’s harassment policy prohibits harassment based on national origin, and that employees are trained to use professional language.
  • Customer and coworker preferences or prejudices do not justify discriminatory hiring, firing, promotion, or discipline decisions.

The list is short and simple. But it can help employers in government and private industry treat all candidates and staff equally and fairly.

For more information, refer to the EEOC Enforcement Guidance on National Origin Discrimination and the EEOC Questions and Answers: Enforcement Guidance on National Origin Discrimination.

Do you have a story idea for us? Do you want to submit a guest blog? If it's about equity, diversity, or inclusion, please submit to

For news, updates, and videos, follow or subscribe to EDI on: Twitter, Instagram, Blog, YouTube.