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Is occupational discrimination ever legal?

On Behalf of | Oct 28, 2023 | Employment Discrimination

Discrimination in the workplace is morally and legally wrong, but many employers continue this harmful practice. They may offer various excuses for allowing such conduct in the work environment, but most are invalid or do not apply.

Citing bona fide occupational qualifications (BFOQ) is one way some Pennsylvania employers may try to skirt anti-discrimination laws. However, this defense only works in limited situations.

What does the term mean?

A BFOQ refers to a particular employee attribute necessary for a job. It may mean that applicants must be a certain age or gender or have specific characteristics to perform a particular job.

Examples of instances of valid BFOQs include the following:

  • Hiring actors only of a certain age or sex to portray specific characters
  • Hiring models with certain physical requirements to model specific items
  • Hiring lifeguards without disabilities or limitations that could impede their duties and responsibilities

Requiring specific attributes may be necessary when hiring for some positions, but you may need a legal opinion to know for sure.

Examples of invalid BFOQs include these:

  • Hiring only men because a job requires heavy lifting
  • Hiring only women as receptionists because that’s what most people are used to
  • Hiring only Christians or white people because the business largely serves this consumer demographic.

In these situations, employees of any race, gender or religion can perform the same work just as well, so there is no valid reason to discriminate.

If you report workplace discrimination and your employer responds by saying they have a bona fide reason, don’t take their word for it. Most employers get away with this because they know employees won’t fight back.

You can help break the cycle by calling out occupational discrimination. It’s wise to have experienced legal guidance.