Employers in California and around the country with 15 or more workers must abide by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The federal law prohibits workplace discrimination based on national origin, but employers are sometimes uncertain of exactly how far these protections should go and how best to ensure that they are in compliance. To clear up this confusion, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued a set of guidelines, a series of questions and answers and a fact sheet to address the issue on Nov. 18.

The EEOC enforcement guidance does not have the power of the law behind it, but it does explain to employers the consequences of discriminating against employees or potential employees based on their national origin, native language, accents or manner of dress. The guidance also reminds employers that discrimination based on an employees perceived national origin is also prohibited. These rules apply to the entire spectrum of employment from interviewing and hiring to termination and severance.

Prohibited policies addressed by the EEOC include the acquiescence to unreasonable customer demands and the requirement that workers be fluent in English when there is no legitimate justification for such a policy. Employers are also not permitted to require their workers to communicate exclusively in English during meals or other breaks or hire only American citizens when immigrants authorized to work in the United States would be equally able to perform the tasks in question.

Discrimination based on national origin is common even in diverse states like California, and attorneys with employment law experience may seek to put an end to this type of behavior by communicating with employers and reminding them of their legal duties and the potential consequences of noncompliance. When these efforts fail to produce the desired results, attorneys may initiate litigation on behalf of workers who have been denied rights guaranteed by federal law.