What Are Protected Characteristics Under the Law?

Under United States employment law, discrimination is illegal. This means employers cannot treat employees less favorably because of their protected characteristics.

Protected characteristics are specific personal traits identified and protected under the Civil Rights Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Rehabilitation Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, Executive Order 13152, and the Supreme Court case, Bostock v. Clayton County.

In the United States, protected characteristics include:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Religion
  • Sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation)
  • Status as a parent
  • National origin
  • Age (40 or older)
  • Disability
  • Genetic information (including family medical history)

Employees who report discrimination are also protected from retaliation, which means an employer cannot take adverse action against them for expressing their concerns.

What Are the Types of Discrimination?

Employment discrimination can take many forms, including unfair treatment, harassment, the denial of reasonable accommodations, improper questions about your medical or genetic information, retaliation, and wrongful termination.

The types of discrimination correspond to each protected characteristic. For example, sex discrimination involves discriminating against someone due to their gender identity, pregnancy status, or sexual orientation. More specifically, a female employee might get fired if her manager learns she is pregnant.

Firing someone because they took a day off to observe a religious holiday would also be discriminatory, as would refusing to add closed captioning to Zoom meetings for a hearing-impaired employee.

Someone does not have to get fired for discrimination to occur. An older employee, for instance, may be passed over for a promotion due to age discrimination, or race discrimination may prevent the best applicant from being hired simply because of the way they were born.

Even seemingly harmless questions can be discriminatory. Asking someone if cancer runs in their family, for instance, violates the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act.

What If I Have Been Discriminated Against?

If you believe you have been wrongfully terminated or discriminated against at work or during your job search, discuss your rights and legal options with an attorney as soon as possible. Discrimination can be difficult to prove, but your lawyer can help you build an effective case.

You should not feel limited at work by any of your protected characteristics – that’s why they are protected!

At Busch, Reed, Jones & Leeper, P.C., we are here to make sure the relevant laws work for you. We have over 150 years of combined experience to dedicate to your case, and we offer dedicated, honest representation to each client.

If you are facing discrimination from an employer, do not hesitate to call us at (770) 629-0154 or contact us online – and don’t forget to ask about your free consultation.