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Employment rights of immigrants and equal employment laws

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission enforces federal laws aimed at protecting immigrants from employment discrimination or harassment on several grounds. These include on the basis of gender, age, religion, color, race, national origin, physical or mental impairments and sexual orientation.

That being said, the EEOC only has jurisdiction in employment discrimination cases up to the first 180 days after which it is said to have occurred. Once a charge of discrimination is filed, the EEOC performs an independent, impartial investigation aimed at ascertaining whether a law has been violated.

A person may prove discrimination based on national origin, without having to prove he or she is from a specific country or region. Equally, someone might also have been discriminated against because it was assumed he or she was born in another country, when in fact, he or she was not.

An employer may be in violation of the law, especially if he or she has certain policies in place that tend to have an adverse impact on members of foreign national origin groups. In this case, an employer having a policy of not hiring people born outside of the U.S. may be seen as a violation of EEOC laws.

Someone also may be deemed to have been discriminated against if he or she has fallen victim to ethnic slurs, verbal or physical actions tied to his or her national origin. In these cases, the employee must prove that the treatment was so pervasive that it created a hostile and intimidating work environment.

It is not necessarily illegal to require employees to speak without a certain accent, especially in cases in which their accent materially interferes with their job performance. However, if they are able to communicate clearly and effectively and be understood without issue, then discriminating someone for it is considered illegal.

Likewise, if an employer has a "Speak English Only" rule, it would be deemed to be justified only if it were put in place to ensure the safety and efficiently of the employee and other co-workers. If it were instead found to be in place merely out of employer preference, it would be deemed illegal.

If you or someone you know has been the victim of employee discrimination based on his or her immigration status or national origin, an employment dispute attorney can provide advice and guidance in your legal matter.

Source: U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, "Immigrants' employment rights under federal anti-discrimination laws," accessed Feb. 17, 2017

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