Can My Employer or Co-workers Make Demeaning or Derogatory Comments Because I Am Chinese or of Asian National Origin?

New York City Attorneys for Workplace Discrimination Claims

Steven Fingerhut

When you go to work, you likely hope to be judged on your work performance, rather than your identity. Federal, state, and local laws prohibit national origin discrimination. Unfortunately, some people hold the offensive opinion that there is a connection between COVID-19 and Chinese Americans, or other Asian Americans. These beliefs can result in discriminatory behavior against Asian Americans in the workplace. If you are worried about whether your employer or coworkers can make demeaning or derogatory comments because you are Chinese American or of another Asian national origin, you should discuss your situation with the New York City national origin discrimination attorneys at Phillips & Associates.

Can My Employer or Coworkers Make Demeaning or Derogatory Comments Because I Am Chinese American or of Another Asian National Origin?

National origin discrimination can take different forms. It occurs whenever an employer takes an adverse employment action against an employee based on his or her national origin. It is prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which applies to employers that have at least 15 employees. It is also prohibited by the New York State Human Rights Law, which applies to New York businesses with any number of employees. Your employer should not take action with regard to your employment based solely on your national origin or perceived national origin. One form of national origin discrimination is harassment.

Your coworkers and employer should not make demeaning or derogatory comments toward you because you are Chinese American or of another Asian national origin. If you face demeaning remarks in the workplace based on your Asian background, you should follow any procedures set forth in your employment manual to report them to your employer. If your employment manual does not set forth any policies and procedures to address this, you should report the harassment to HR. If your company has no Human Resources Department, you should complain to some member of management.

National Origin Harassment

The New York State Human Rights Law prohibits workplace harassment on the basis of national origin. Demeaning or derogatory remarks may create a hostile work environment. The harassing conduct needs to be more than petty slights or trivial inconveniences to be actionable under city or state law. For example, if your manager tells you that you probably have coronavirus because you are Chinese American and blamed you for bringing COVID-19 to the United States, you may have a claim for harassment. The state and city laws apply to employers of any size.

The state law was amended so that it more closely mirrors the New York City Human Rights Law, rather than the federal law—Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which is more restrictive. Under Title VII, harassment must be so severe or pervasive that it more substantially alters the workplace. This can be a difficult standard to meet. State and local laws are more protective regarding actionable harassment based on national origin.

You may be able to recover damages for a hostile work environment. For example, if your manager makes jokes about your heritage and the coronavirus, this may constitute a hostile work environment. Similarly, if your coworkers circulate memes or other digital content linking Asian Americans and the coronavirus, this might constitute a hostile work environment. It is important to discuss workplace incidents that have made you uncomfortable with an experienced attorney who can apply federal, state, and local laws to your situation to determine whether you have any claims for damages.

Contact an Experienced National Origin Discrimination Attorney in New York City

It can be painful to be mocked or treated violently because of your ancestry. Additionally, harassment can lead to adverse employment actions, particularly if your employer does not understand its legal obligations to you. If you believe that you were subject to national origin harassment, one of our experienced trial attorneys at Phillips & Associates may be able to represent you. We assist workers in Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, Staten Island, the Bronx, and Nassau, Suffolk, and Westchester Counties, as well as New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Florida. Call us at (866) 229-9441 or complete our online form.

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