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Employment NewsFlash
Renewed Focus on Employee National Origin

November 22, 2013
Client Alert

National origin discrimination was the primary focus of a recent public meeting held by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Unlike other protected classifications such as sex and age, employers may have difficulty determining exactly which employees fall within the protected “national origin” category. As recognized during the EEOC meeting, “national origin” not only involves a person’s place of birth, but may also involve the origin of the employee’s ancestors, cultural practices or language differences.

During the meeting, the EEOC identified a series of lawsuits filed against employers, many of which focused on employer policies restricting the use of various foreign languages and dialects. The EEOC also highlighted its efforts to proactively reach out to employees of diverse national origin. The full transcript of the meeting can be found here.

Employers should consider the following as a result of the EEOC’s recent commentary.

  • Should we offer anti-harassment and diversity training in multiple languages to combat allegations that a language barrier interfered with training?
  • If a particular employee population speaks a different language, should we offer translated versions of common EEOC postings and for which languages?
  • Do we have written (or unwritten) policies that restrict the use of non-English languages at the workplace? Are those policies in compliance with EEOC Guidelines and/or applicable law?
  • Are our employment eligibility verification procedures up to date? Do those procedures follow federal guidelines?
  • Do our managers know how to appropriately respond to employee disputes arising from different cultural or linguistic backgrounds? 

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