EEOC Issues New Guidance on National Origin Bias

December 02, 2016

The EEOC has issued new guidance on national origin discrimination intended to guide agency employees enforcing Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and emphasizing "best practices" employers should follow to be compliant.  The new guidance defines prohibited conduct as "treating someone less favorably because that individual (or his or her ancestors) is from a certain place or belongs to a particular national origin group."  To be actionable under Title VII, harassment must be severe and pervasive, rather than "merely offensive," and the guidance provides updated examples of conduct that are both permissible and prohibited, including a section on language that covers accent discrimination, fluency requirements, and English-only rules.  In keeping with prior interpretation and court rulings, the guidance reiterates that employers may consider English proficiency and English-only workplace rules without violating Title VII, as long as these requirements are tailored to meet specific job requirements.  According to the EEOC, harassment claims in national origin discrimination charges doubled over the past ten years, with nearly over 9,400 charges of national origin harassment filed in 2015 compared to 2,700 charges filed in fiscal year 2002.