HR Mavericks

Eddy’s HR Mavericks Encyclopedia

National Origin Discrimination
Is national origin discrimination blatantly easy to spot as is commonly believed? Read on to unveil its hidden face and thwart its impact on workplace equality with these practical strategies.

What Is National Origin Discrimination?

National origin discrimination occurs when individuals are treated unfavorably due to their country of origin. This extends to any negative treatment based on one’s ethnicity, accent, or perceived ethnic background. It also includes discrimination against individuals married to or associated with someone of a particular national origin. In the workplace, employees are protected from national origin discrimination through the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA) which makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate. This applies specifically to any aspect of employment such as “...hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, fringe benefits, and any other term or condition of employment” per the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Why Is National Origin Discrimination Harmful?

National origin discrimination is seriously harmful to the victim and everyone they are associated with, but the harmful effects extend well past the direct impact on the victim.
  • Creates a hostile work environment. In cases of frequent and/or severe harassment, the victim isn’t the only one who ends up suffering. It creates an unhealthy environment for the entire workplace as employees are constantly unsure of how they will be treated and why.
  • Violates human rights and stifles diversity and inclusion. By excluding or marginalizing individuals based on their national origin, organizations miss out on the valuable range of perspectives, experiences and talents that contribute to a diverse and innovative workforce.
  • Diminishes equality and fairness. Workplaces that strive to create an environment that is a level playing field find that discrimination directly hinders that. It is in direct contradiction to treating each employee equally.
  • Negatively impacts morale and productivity. When employees experience discrimination, morale, motivation and job satisfaction all take a hit. When employees witness their fellow workers being treated unfairly, it has a similar effect. Discrimination is terrible for the victims, but it also has a splattering effect impacting the entire workforce.
  • Limits career opportunities. For victims, discrimination restricts career advancement opportunities depriving them of promotions and job assignments
  • Underutilizes skills and talents. Discrimination in general prevents organizations from fully leveraging valuable skills, talents and diverse perspectives. Overall, this stunts the growth of the company and squanders potential.

Examples of National Origin Discrimination

National origin discrimination can rear its ugly head in many ways. It can manifest in virtually every aspect of employment from obvious blatant comments to more subtle exclusion from opportunities. Understanding the more subtle ways discrimination can occur can help it be identified promptly and handled with empathy and discretion.

Hiring and Firing

During the hiring process and coming to the decision to let an employee go, national origin should never play a role in the final outcome. Instances when an employer refuses to hire qualified applicants or lets certain employees go solely because of their national origin are one of the most blatant forms of this type of discrimination.

Pay Disparities

Employees of certain nationalities have historically been shown to be paid less than their coworkers of the same position despite equal or greater work performance. Per this insightful article, it is still an ongoing issue in the present day.

Job Assignment, Opportunity and Promotion Bias

Here employees are discriminated against by being given the most difficult and undesirable tasks, skipped over for job related opportunities and denied promotions based on their national origin. This could look like a sales representative being passed up when giving out potential leads, making promotion opportunities known only to a select few (in favor of less qualified candidates), or unfairly dividing undesirable assignments based on national origin.

Exclusion From Training and Development

Employees experience national origin discrimination when they are excluded from training programs and professional development opportunities. This may sound obvious, but it can be done subtly. For example, one involved in national origin discrimination may schedule beneficial training during days or times they know certain employees will be unable to participate, or even “accidentally” forget to include certain nationalities in the email list providing details for attendance.

Emotional and Psychological Abuse

This discrimination takes the form of derogatory comments, offensive jokes or insults based on national origin. These damaging comments can be strongly veiled to include inside references that only the victim will understand the meaning. This can also look like psychological abuse such as social humiliation, direct or veiled threats, isolation, belittling, invalidating, controlling access to resources or facilities, silent treatment, emotional blackmail… the list goes on. This discrimination can be direct and obvious, but more often it is strategically veiled to be subtle. This could look like mentioning something the abuser knows is private to the victim in a casual public setting, creating a roadblock to the bathroom or water fountain by having extended important-sounding conversations, or even feigning friendship with the victim to gain blackmail opportunities. Understanding the signs of these methods is so important. This form of discrimination is intentionally made hard to discern, giving it ample opportunity to become extended abuse if not identified quickly.

Unfair Disciplinary Measures

This involves abuse of power when an authority figure engages in disciplinary measures either to innocent victims or by rightfully providing disciplinary measures in an inordinate way. This could look like a hypervigilant manager hashing out disproportionately harsh punishments for minor infractions toward certain individuals of a certain nation origin.

Unequal Job Requirements

Job responsibilities should be equal for employees holding the same position. This form of discrimination holds different employees to different standards based on national origin. This could look like certain employees getting the brunt of the time-consuming aspects of their department or team, being given unrealistic time constraints to accomplish certain assignments, or giving individuals time off or relief from assignments to pile the workload onto another individual based on nationality, whether they agreed to it or not. This can also be more subtle such as enforcing strict language requirements that target employees of certain national origins, even when fluency in a particular language is not necessary for job performance.

Denial of Accommodations

Each employee has the right to reasonable accommodation under Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Denying employees such accommodations based on national origin is in direct violation. For example, an employer might decline an employee’s request for a religious accommodation, such as time off for a cultural observance, solely based on their national origin.

Best Practices for Preventing National Origin Discrimination

The best approach for preventing national origin discrimination, is one of shaping the culture of the workplace and being proactive in spotting any subtle signs. Best practices like these help keep you ahead of the game.


Discrimination grows in the dark. The more light you can shine on the actions and decision making processes of the organization as a whole, the better. Transparency makes it difficult for abusers to discriminate without being quickly called out and addressed. Some direct ways to build up a culture of transparency are to implement things like pay transparency, employee resource groups (ERG) and multiple open communication channels where employees can report concerns or incidents without fear of retaliation (or being mistreated themselves). Action Step: If you don’t have one already, create an open company-wide forum. Encourage employees to join and to ask questions, share stories, and shout-outs to their fellow workers.

Recruiting, Hiring, and Evaluating

Ensure all job descriptions are inclusive and that all qualifications focus on skills that are common to all national origins. Implement diverse sourcing strategies to ensure unbiased decisions during recruiting and to attract a wide variety of candidates from multiple backgrounds. Additionally, the interview and evaluation processes should be structured and standardized using the same criteria across the board for every candidate and employee. Action step: If you have standardized interview questions, review them to ensure the questions are relevant to every job description and don’t give accidental advantages or disadvantages to certain groups of people.

Policies and Practices

The stance of your organization toward discrimination of all types needs to be clearly defined and outlined in your policies and procedures. Establish clear anti-discrimination policies that explicitly define what the company considers to be national origin discrimination and outline consequences for violations. There also needs to be a procedure in place for employees to confidentially submit complaints of discrimination as well as follow up processes for how those complaints are handled, such as triggering an investigation process. Action step: Using this sample policy from SHRM, build out a thorough anti-discrimination policy. If you have one in place, use this sample as a guide to see if there are any potential gaps in your existing policy.

Training and Education

The best places to work provide comprehensive training to their employees. This includes training on discrimination, diversity and inclusion, recognizing and addressing discrimination, fostering inclusive culture, conflict resolution, communication, etc. There should be regular refresher sessions and ongoing education to reinforce the importance of these topics and maintain a diverse and respectful workplace. Action step: If you have a regular training schedule, book a diversity and inclusion expert to fill your next available spot. If you don’t have a regular training schedule, send out an email poll to your core team to get their input on how often they think additional training on communication, diversity and inclusion, conflict resolution and the like might benefit their team.

Ongoing Monitoring and Evaluation

A system should be in place to regularly assess workforce demographics, hiring data, promotion rates, employee satisfaction and so forth. These data points in combination with employee feedback through surveys and polls create a comprehensive system identifying any disparities and red flags related to discrimination. Depending on the work environment and unique factors that create potential for national origin discrimination in the workplace, how often these assessments should be carried out will vary. A good rule of thumb is to have quarterly evaluations. However, if you find yourself in a workplace that suffers from a culture of national origin discrimination, starting these assessments at a more regular rate paired with stronger intervention methods may be a good place to start. Action step: Brainstorm what type of assessments and how often this type of assessment would be appropriate to implement for your unique workplace circumstances. Set a recurring event on your calendar to remind you as often as you determined makes sense.

How to Handle National Origin Discrimination Complaints and Investigations

It is substantially important to be proactive to avoid all forms of discrimination. However, when a complaint is received, how it is handled is just as important (if not more so).

Step 1: Ensure Confidentiality and Protection

First and foremost, ensure there is a safe and confidential way for employees to file a complaint or share concerns regarding national origin discrimination. When a complaint is received, practice active listening and exercise empathy. It takes a great deal of courage to come forward when one has witnessed discrimination in the workplace or have fallen victim to it themselves. Document the details of the complaint thoroughly. For a more detailed idea of what information to gather, check out this sample harassment complaint form, as discrimination and harassment typically go hand in hand. Additionally, measures to ensure the safety and well-being of the complainant should be implemented to prevent harassment or retaliation. Such measures could include separating them from the accused, offering a security escort to and from their car and the building, or installing additional security cameras/ microphones. Make the complainant fully aware of these protective measures before the investigation begins.

Step 2: Plan the Investigation

Create a well-structured investigation plan. This should outline the alleged issue and include details identifying the witnesses and determining information sources. From there, interview questions should be prepared and the documentation processes outlined. Interview questions should be relevant, open-ended, and non-leading. Additional questions may be added as more evidence and information are shared. Here are some sample questions to consider.

Step 3: Communicate Expectations and Select an Investigator

Before mobilizing a full investigation, inform the complainant regarding what the investigation process will look like. Explain what they should expect including a timeline of investigative procedures, confidentiality measures and the specifics of (and to what extent) their cooperation will be needed. Stress the need for transparency and honesty during the entire process-particularly if there is any retaliation from the accused. The responsibility of heading up the investigation falls on the organization’s designated entity. This should be outlined as a part of this individual’s job description. Depending on the needs of the organization, this could be:
  • Internal Human Resources
  • Internal Security
  • Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) or Compliance Officer
  • Investigation Team or External Investigator
  • Legal Counsel
The important thing is that the investigating party is unbiased, knowledgeable about national origin discrimination laws and skilled in conducting thorough investigations. However, in some jurisdictions, there may be governmental or external agencies, such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in the United States, responsible for investigating discrimination complaints. These agencies work independently and may become involved if the complaint cannot be resolved internally or if the complaint alleges violations of specific laws or regulations.

Step 4: Conduct the Interviews

Interviews should be conducted impartially, with a focus on gathering and considering relevant facts. Investigators should be cautious not to push the investigation in any particular direction or use harsh interrogation tactics. Here is an example of what an interview plan might look like.

Step 5: Make a Fair Decision and Close the Investigation

Once all of the information has been gathered, the investigator should evaluate it thoroughly to avoid any premature conclusions. The formal results should be presented to both parties, ensuring resolution and providing support. Lastly, a summary report documenting the incident, key findings, actions taken and any unresolved matters should be written.
Kayla Farber

Kayla Farber

Kayla is the Chief Innovation Officer at Hero Culture, where the passion is to create company cultures of retention using the power of personality.
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