Recently, the phrase, “go back to your country,” worked its way into public discourse. While the words may seem to be innocuous in some settings, such as when a foreign visitor is boarding a return flight, they may be problematic in others. In fact, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the phrase may constitute illegal workplace harassment or discrimination.
In the United States, it is illegal for any employer to discriminate against applicants or employees because of their race, sex, national origin, religion or skin color. While ethnic slurs clearly violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, some other behaviors are also impermissible. Here are some examples that may support a harassment or discrimination complaint:
Accents are common even among those who speak English eloquently. Unfortunately, though, your colleagues may mock the way you talk. If this behavior is pervasive or ongoing, you may experience a variety of personal and professional consequences. Your employer usually cannot, however, use your accent as a reason to take adverse employment action.
If you are a member of an ethnic group, you may wear a specific style of clothing. Provided your ethnic clothes do not pose a safety risk, your employer should not object to your wardrobe. Your boss should also not change your job duties because of your physical appearance.
The Immigration Reform and Control Act requires employers to confirm the identity and work eligibility of all employees. To do so, employers complete I-9 forms. While the I-9 asks about your citizenship status, your employer should not discriminate against you because of it. The same is true for perceived citizenship status. That is, even if your national origin makes it seem like you are a citizen of another country, your employer should treat you the same as other workers.
While the phrase, “go back to your country,” is a clear violation of anti-discrimination law, there are a few other ways that your employer or colleagues may discriminate against or harass you. By understanding the safeguards that you have under federal law, you can better protect both yourself and your career.