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Federal employment agency says telling people to ‘go back to where you came from’ can be workplace harassment

Posted at 8:23 AM, Jul 18, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-18 10:23:02-04

A federal agency charged with enforcing laws prohibiting workplace discrimination cites “go back to where you came from” as a remark that may constitute unlawful harassment based on national origin.

The example has provided fodder to critics of President Donald Trump, who earlier this week lobbed racist attacks at four Democratic congresswomen in a series of tweets that implied the congresswomen were not natural-born American citizens and should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.” The tweet ignited a firestorm in Washington and caused the House to quickly show support for the women by passing a resolution Tuesday condemning the tweets.

“Ethnic slurs and other verbal or physical conduct because of nationality are illegal if they are severe or pervasive and create an intimidating, hostile or offensive working environment, interfere with work performance, or negatively affect job opportunities,” the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission states in a passage on its website.

“Examples of potentially unlawful conduct include insults, taunting, or ethnic epithets, such as making fun of a person’s foreign accent or comments like, ‘Go back to where you came from,’ whether made by supervisors or by co-workers,” the passage reads.

On Monday, a day after Trump made his tweets, the EEOC tweeted about how an employee can submit a charge of discrimination, prompting some Twitter users to link the President’s tweets to the regulations.

Sen. Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat, made the connection Tuesday, writing in a tweet that the agency “cites ‘go back to where you came from’ as a classic form of discrimination that violates civil rights.”

“The President’s bigoted words are so contrary to who we are as a country that we literally have laws against them,” Kaine wrote in the tweet.

Sunny Hostin, a co-host on ABC’s “The View,” wrote in a tweet on Tuesday that “the ‘Go back where you came from’ trope is ‘potentially unlawful conduct’ if uttered by supervisors or co-workers. Just in case people are wondering if it’s ‘racist.'”

The EEOC says on its website that if an individual believes they have been discriminated against at work based on their identity — including their national origin — they can file a “charge of discrimination” with the agency, which “is a signed statement asserting that an employer, union or labor organization engaged in employment discrimination” and requests the agency “to take remedial action.”