People are naturally curious about where others come from. But at work, such inquisitiveness can lead to misunderstandings—and, ultimately, expensive litigation. That’s why you should counsel supervisors against asking subordinates where they are from or what nationality they hold.
Recent case: Ousseynou, who is Senegalese, worked in loss prevention at a Sephora store. He was fired for ignoring his boss’s directions on when to stop suspected shoplifters.
He sued, alleging his manager discriminated against him on account of his religion and national origin. He cited this example to prove his point: His manager once asked him what country he was from, adding that she was from Puerto Rico and was therefore a U.S. citizen.
The case was ultimately dismissed—but not before an expensive trial and appeal. (Lam v. Sephora, No. 11-1404, 2nd Cir., 2012)