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What does "protected class" mean?

Employers cannot harass or fire workers based on things such as race or sex, we all know that. In addition to our heritage and gender there are other traits that may make us members of what is known as a "protected class."

People who belong to a protected class have specific traits. If an employer discriminates or fires you because of these traits, then an employer has unlawfully discriminated against you based on your protected status. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the federal organization which enforces this law.  

Does the law apply to every employer? 

No. The law only applies to employers with more than 15 employees. The law does however include labor unions and employment agencies. EEOC laws apply to more than just daily work, or on the job harassment, these laws also relate to hiring practices, training, promotions, wages and benefits and termination.

The main thrust of these laws is that your employer cannot use your protected status when making workplace decisions. For example, when making layoffs, an employer cannot single out and lay off only women of childbearing age, or pregnant women. An employer also cannot lay off or fire only those workers who are over 50.  

Why were these laws created? 

Anti-discrimination laws and the creation of a protected class are meant to shield people who have had  "a history of unfavorable treatment" in the workplace, particularly women and minority group members. Most people consider the 1964 Civil Rights Act as the beginning of a nation-wide awareness and intolerance for discriminatory workplace practices.

Who are members of a protected class?  

Women, people of color (race), people of a specific heritage or religion and people who are over 40 are members of a protected class. There are other traits which make you as an employee a member of a protected class. These are: 

  • Your sexual orientation and gender identity
  • Your pregnancy status
  • Your citizenship
  • Your familial status, including whether or not you have kids
  • If you are disabled
  • If you are a veteran
  • Genetic information and how differences in your DNA can or may affect your health

If you feel you have been discriminated against or harassed on the job

Your employer cannot create tests or conditions that make it difficult or impossible to do you job as a member of a protected class. A lawyer who practices employment law will be able to assess your workplace discrimination or harassment issue and advise you on steps to take. 

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E.L. Law Firm

E.L. Law Firm
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Portland, OR 97205

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