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What are protected classes?
  • Protected classes are protected from discrimination under federal law.

The term “protected class” is associated with discrimination. In short, discrimination is an adverse action taken, intentionally or unintentionally, where membership in a protected class was a motivating factor.

Employers cannot use a person’s membership in a protected class as a factor when making employment decisions (hiring, promotion, etc.). Classes protected under federal law include:

  • Age (over 40)
  • Disability
  • National origin
  • Pregnancy
  • Race
  • Religion
  • Sex (including sexual orientation and gender identity)
  • Genetic information (the provisions on genetic discrimination are typically similar to those for disabilities and prohibit medical tests that reveal genetic disorders.)

Note that in addition to these categories, federal contractors are specifically prohibited from discriminating based on an individual's:

  • Protected veteran status

In addition, many states have created discrimination laws that include additional protected classes. Some of the more common classes that states have listed include:

  • Arrest or court records,
  • Military service,
  • Use of a lawful product (like tobacco), and
  • Engaging in lawful activity outside of work.