Federal law prohibits discrimination of certain protected classes in the workplace. Many people in the United States approve of these laws but may not be familiar with what constitutes a protected class covered by federal employment discrimination laws.
What is a protected class?
A protected class is a group of individuals with a shared characteristic that are covered by federal workplace discrimination laws. Under federal law, employers cannot discriminate against a worker based on the worker’s:
- National origin
- Sexual orientation
- Gender identity
- Age (40 or older)
- Genetic information
This list does not include classes such as marital status, political affiliation, body size, wealth or whether a worker has a criminal record. Note that some state laws to prohibit workplace discrimination based on classes not covered by federal law.
What is workplace discrimination?
Workplace discrimination occurs when a worker is subject to an adverse employment action or harassment based on their membership in a protect class. Adverse employment actions include being:
- Fired or laid off
- Given unequal pay or unfavorable job assignments
- Looked over for a promotion
- Denied fringe benefits
- Excluded from other terms and conditions of employment
Keep in mind that discrimination or harassment must be based solely on a worker’s inclusion in a protected class. In at-will employment states or absent an employment contract stating otherwise, workers can be subject to adverse employment actions for nondiscriminatory reasons.
Knowing whether you were discriminated against at work may be clear-cut or it may be a bit cloudy. Understanding who is covered by federal workplace discrimination laws can help you decide if you were unlawfully discriminated against at work.