Protected hiring characteristics (also called protected classes) refer to attributes that are legally protected from discrimination during the hiring process. These include race, color, religion, sex, age, disability, and genetic information. The EEOC also includes protection for employees, former employees, and applicants against retaliation, harassment, and sexual harassment. Some states have also placed stricter laws against discrimination, including AIDS/HIV and other health conditions, political activism, veteran status, domestic violence victim status, and political activism status.
Under the laws provided by the EEOC, it is illegal not to hire someone based on these characteristics. In the same way, you cannot retaliate against them if they complain about being discriminated against. In this guide, we will look at the different protected characteristics, the laws that protect them, complaint procedures, and how to create an inclusive and fair workplace for everyone.
Protected Characteristics: Laws and Legislation
Several laws in the federal, state, and local levels are put in place to protect individuals against discrimination during the hiring process. The most relevant to keep in mind include:
1. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
Title VII was designed to ensure that everyone has access to equal employment opportunities and put an end to systemic discrimination in the workplace. It prohibits discriminatory practices in hiring, promotion, compensation, and other decisions related to hiring. Protected classes under Title VII include race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. It should be noted that Title VII is applicable to employers with 15+ employees.
2. The Civil Rights Act of 1991
This law made changes to Title VII to further strengthen it. The Civil Rights Act of 1991 provides additional protections for victims of discrimination, including the right to seek compensation for punitive damages in cases of intentional discrimination.
3. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) of 1967
The ADEA of 1967 protects people aged 40 and above from discrimination based on their age in various aspects of employment, from hiring to termination. It also prohibits age-related biases in job advertisements and assignments.
4. Equal Pay Act of 1963
The Equal Pay Act aims to eliminate wage disparities based on gender. It requires employers to provide equal pay for equal work no matter what their gender is, provided that they work within the same establishment.
5. Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990
The ADA protects individuals with disabilities from discrimination in various aspects of public life, including employment. Under this law, employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations to allow equal opportunities in the workplace. Its purpose is to promote inclusivity, accessibility, and equal participation for people with disabilities in society.
6. Title II of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA)
Title II of the GINA prohibits companies from making employment decisions using genetic information. It includes getting or requesting information about job candidates or their family members, except in limited circumstances. GINA allows the request of genetic information in:
- Health services, such as wellness programs, provided by employers
- Publicly available sources
- Voluntary employee health risk assessments
- Genetic monitoring required by law
- DNA testing for law enforcement purposes
- Certification requirements for leave policies
7. Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA)
The PDA ensures that women who are pregnant or have related medical conditions have access to equal opportunities, including hiring, promotion, and other employment practices. Under this law, employers must treat pregnant employees or those affected with related medical conditions the same way as other employees.
Best Practices to Create an Inclusive Workplace
Creating an environment of inclusivity in the workplace starts in the hiring/recruitment process. By having one in place, it’s easier to identify and prevent incidents of discrimination. Most of all, workplaces that have DEI initiatives make people feel more valued, respected, and supported.
Here are a few tips on how to make your workplace a more inclusive one:
1. Create and Enforce Anti-Discrimination Policies
These policies should explicitly outline the company’s commitment to diversity. It should also indicate the consequences of discriminatory behavior. Additionally, employees should be aware of the reporting process in place.
2. Evaluate Hiring and Promotion Process
Review your hiring and promotion process to make sure these are transparent and fair. Examine every stage, from job postings to the final selection. Evaluate whether the criteria used to assess candidates are objective and relevant to the position, and that the decision-making process is free from any hiring biases.
3. Provide Support
Foster an environment where seeking help is encouraged, and any stigma surrounding issues on discrimination is reduced. Additionally, have support systems in place, such as counseling, mentorship, or employee assistance programs. These will help employees navigate challenges related to discrimination.
4. Create Safe Spaces
Establish safe spaces for protected classes, such as wheelchair ramps, prayer rooms, lactation rooms, mental health spaces, and multilingual resources. Safe spaces, however, go beyond physical accommodations. It also includes an environment where employees can openly express their concerns, share their experiences, and seek guidance without fear of reprisal or judgment.
5. Educate Your Employees
Implementing DEI training programs is essential in building a culture that values diversity and recognizes the importance of protected characteristics. Training sessions should also include how discriminatory behavior impacts the organization.
Aside from training, equip employees with tools and resources that will help them identify and address unconscious biases. By providing employees with an understanding of these elements, you can foster an environment of acceptance and respect.
6. Keep Track of Workplace Demographics
Regularly assess your workplace demographics. This involves a comprehensive analysis of how protected classes are represented in your workplace. You can then use these data to identify areas of improvement, set goals, and measure overall progress.
Being aware of what protected characteristics are and the laws that protect them are fundamental in creating a more diverse workplace. Couple that with regular diversity awareness training for your employees, and you have a healthy and safe workplace where everyone respects each other and contributes to the success of the company.