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What Are “Protected Classes” in the Workplace?

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What Are “Protected Classes” in the Workplace?

By The Employer Group - May 23, 2022

Hiring, firing, and promoting employees may not be as clear as it seems. Employers often walk a fine line when it comes to protecting their companies and enforcing employee rights. In today’s workplace, it is important for employers and employees to be aware of anti-discrimination laws and who those laws protect.

What is a protected class and who falls under it?

A “Protected Class” refers to an individual, or group, who is legally protected from being harmed or harassed by law, practices, and policies that discriminate against them due to a shared characteristic. Federally protected classes include:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Religion
  • National Origin or Ancestry
  • Sex (gender, pregnancy, sexual orientation, and gender identity)
  • Age (40 or older)
  • Physical or Mental Disability
  • Veteran Status
  • Genetic Information
  • Citizen

Apart from the federal protected classes, state and local laws may define additional protected classes.

Examples of possible discrimination against a protected class:

  • Letting a female employee go who is 55 years old due to her position not being needed anymore, but keeping a male employee who is 25 years old that holds the same job title and hours as the female
  • Reducing an employee’s hours who is pregnant because you cannot rely on her attendance and performance
  • Making negative comments about an applicant’s religion during their interview and not hiring them

Employees can file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) at any time if they feel they have been discriminated or retaliated against in anyway. However, there are many steps you can take, as an employer, to minimize the chances of them filing. For more information or guidance, please reach out to us at

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