Racial discrimination occurs if the employer treat his employees differently because of race or because of a characteristic that is related to race. For example, if an African-American worker is fired because the worker has black hair, that might be race discrimination because most African-American people have black hair.
National origin discrimination occurs if an employee is treated unfairly because of the country the employee came from or because of the employee’s ancestry. For example, if you decide not to hire an employee because he comes from India, that is national origin discrimination. It also would be national origin discrimination if you decided to fire an employee after learning that the employee’s family came from Nicaragua three generations earlier. Although national origin is often related to race, it is not necessarily the same thing.
Generally, the employer may not treat a worker differently because of a foreign accent. This is national origin discrimination – unless the worker’s accent gets in the way of performing the job. For example, if the employee is required to have good communication skills to get a promotion, you can pass the employee over for the promotion if his accent interferes with his work. On the other hand, if the worker can show that his accent did not significantly affect his ability to communicate with customers or coworkers, refusal to promote the employee might constitute national origin discrimination.
Can I require my employees to speak only English?
Employers may require employees to speak only English at work where necessary for safe and efficient job performance. But such a requirement might be viewed as national origin discrimination if it is not reasonably related to the needs of the job and it is applied to employees who cannot speak English at all or who speak very limited English.
“National origin” discrimination does not include discrimination based solely on one’s citizenship. Therefore, an employer could refuse to hire someone who is not a U.S. citizen – unless that employer does so because of the applicant’s national origin.