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Discriminatory Harassment Frequently Asked Questions

Can an office rule be established requiring employees to speak only English at all times?

No. Prohibiting employees from speaking in a language other than English could be considered discrimination based on national origin. However, an office policy may be established that requires employees to speak only English at certain times when not doing so would adversely impact work duties, tasks, and communication.

What is the difference between sexual harassment and discriminatory harassment?

Sexual harassment is the unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature that tends to create a hostile or offensive work environment.  Discriminatory harassment is any unwelcome, typically repeated offensive conduct that is directed at an individual because of his/her membership in a legally protected class. (Protected classes are based on federal law or Executive Order: race, sex, age, disability, religion, national origin, color, reprisal, genetic information, sexual orientation, and status as a parent.)

If my intentions are good, could my behavior be seen as discriminatory harassment?

Yes. In some cases behavior intended as a joke can be considered unlawful discriminatory harassment. Harassment is unwanted, unsolicited, unwelcome, repeated, and/or offensive, comments, materials, and/or behavior that demeans, belittles, intimidates, or humiliates another person because of their protected status under the law or Executive Order (i.e., race, color, sex, national origin, religion, disability, age, sexual orientation, status as a parent, genetic information, and/or reprisal). Unlawful discriminatory harassment can be verbal, physical, or non-verbal, and it violates federal law if it is sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of employment and creates a hostile work environment. The test for determining whether conduct is harassing is not on what the person who engages in the conduct intended but on how such conduct would be perceived by a reasonable employee.

Can swearing, foul language, dirty jokes, and racy stories or pictures be considered discriminatory harassment?

Yes. This type of behavior is inappropriate in the work place and in some instances may be considered as discriminatory if directed toward an individual or group because of their protected status under the law. Petty slights, annoyances, and isolated incidents (unless extremely serious) will not rise to the level of illegality. To be unlawful, the conduct must create a work environment that would be intimidating, hostile, or offensive to reasonable people and is sufficiently severe to alter the conditions of employment. Racial or ethnic slurs directed to or in the presence of a person will almost always be considered harassment. See EEOC’s definition of Harassment.

Do ethnic slurs constitute harassment on the basis of race and/or national origin?

Yes. Ethnic slurs may constitute harassment if they create an offensive work environment or interfere with an individual's work performance or equal employment opportunities. Discrimination based on national origin and race is in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended. Racial or ethnic slurs directed to or in the presence of a person will almost always be considered harassment.

What are my obligations if I observe discriminatory or harassing behavior?

CBP employees have an obligation to report misconduct, including discriminatory or harassing behavior, to the Joint Intake Center at 1-877-2INTAKE or; the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Office of Professional Responsibility; or the Office of Inspector General at 1-800-323-8603 or

Last modified: 
Tuesday, March 7, 2017 - 09:42