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Do you know the characteristics that federal employment law protects explicitly?

On Behalf of | Apr 4, 2024 | Employment Law

Employment law exists to help ensure fair treatment for everyone in the workplace. A core principle within this legal framework is the concept of protected characteristics. These parts of an individual identity are immutable.

These characteristics represent elements of an individual’s identity that employers are prohibited from discriminating against during the hiring process, throughout employment and even during termination. Understanding these protected characteristics empowers both employees and employers to cultivate a work environment built on respect and equality.

The shield of protected characteristics

Several key characteristics receive legal protection under employment law. Some of the specific characteristics include:

  • Age: Employers cannot favor or disfavor someone based on their age, particularly those over a certain age threshold (often 40 or older).
  • Disability: Qualified individuals with disabilities cannot be discriminated against. Employers are also mandated to provide reasonable accommodations that help disabled individuals to perform their job duties effectively.
  • Gender: This encompasses discrimination based on a person’s sex, pregnancy, maternity or sexual orientation.
  • Race: Employees are protected from discrimination based on their race, ethnicity or national origin.
  • Religion or Belief: Employers cannot discriminate against someone because of their religious beliefs or lack thereof. This includes providing reasonable accommodations for religious practices.
  • Sexual Orientation: Individuals cannot be discriminated against based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

It’s crucial to note that discrimination can be both direct and indirect. Direct discrimination involves an explicit preference for or against someone based on a protected characteristic. For example, refusing to interview a candidate because of their age is a clear case of direct discrimination. Indirect discrimination arises from policies or practices that seem neutral but disproportionately disadvantage a group with a protected characteristic. An example might be a mandatory physical fitness test that unfairly excludes otherwise qualified disabled applicants.

Respecting protected characteristics are fundamental to helping to ensure equal opportunity in the workplace. If you are an employee, understanding these protections can empower you to advocate for yourself and challenge unfair treatment. If you are an employer, know that fostering a culture of respect for diversity and inclusion upholds the law and strengthens your business.

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