Paper Trails

What is a protected class?

Operating a business comes with many compliance risks. While business owners have a lot of leeway to make employment decisions as they see fit, there are certain federal laws that protect individuals from being discriminated against. These individuals are part of groups known as protected classes. Continue reading for an overview of what a protected class is.

What is a protected class?

A protected class is a group of individuals that receive protection from employment discrimination for a certain reason. Multiple federal laws have been enacted to provide certain individuals an equal opportunity at employment. Business owners must know and adhere to these laws in order to maintain compliance in their hiring practices.

What groups are considered part of a protected class?

There are numerous groups protected under federal laws. Business owners cannot discriminate against employees or applicants based on:

  • race
  • color
  • age
  • gender
  • sexual orientation
  • gender identity
  • pregnancy
  • religion
  • disability
  • national origin
  • ethnic background
  • genetic information (including that of family members)
  • military service
  • citizenship or immigration status

Which federal laws protect these individuals?

Employment discrimination legislation has continued to expand throughout the 20th and early 21st centuries. The following laws have been put into place to provide an equal opportunity for groups that have been historically discriminated against.

  • The Civil Rights Act of 1964 – Title VII – Protects individuals from discrimination against race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. Additionally, this act also established the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC is the federal agency that oversees the enforcement of The Civil Rights Acts from an employment standpoint.
  • The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 – This act protects the people over 40 years of age. Employers cannot deny an applicant employment or terminate a current employee because they are over the age of 40.
  • The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 – Pregnant individuals, or those with related medical issues, must not be discriminated against for these reasons.
  • Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 – In accordance with this act, employers must not deny employment to those qualified individuals with disabilities.
  • Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 – The employment status of those who are called into military duty is protected under USERRA. An employee must be eligible for rehire for up to 5 years after being called into military duty.
  • Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act – Under this act, employers cannot discriminate against employees or applicants because of genetic information such as genetic risk factors, family medical history, and disease susceptibility.

What should employers do to avoid complaints?

As an employer, knowing these protected classes is key to avoiding discrimination complaints. The best way for employers to avoid discrimination is to base employment decisions only on job-related factors. Furthermore, train your hiring managers on protected classes to maintain compliance when reviewing applicants. Providing the full list of protected classes in your employee handbook is a great step to take for all businesses so everyone is aware of them.