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Employment Discrimination


Employment discrimination happens in the job recruiting or hiring process or in the workplace.  It happens when employment decisions such as hiring, layoffs, pay or other work terms or conditions are based on factors other than qualifications or job performance.

Who is protected?

For employment discrimination to be illegal in PA, it must be based on someone’s race; color; sex; age (over 40); ancestry; national origin; religious creed; having a GED rather than a high school diploma; handicap or disability, or the use of a guide or support animal for disability, or relationship to a person with a disability.  In hospital and healthcare settings, it is illegal to discriminate against employees based on their participate in or refusal to participate in abortion or sterilization procedures.

Discrimination based on other factors may be unfair or unethical, but not specifically prohibited by law.  If you have questions about the basis of discrimination, please contact us.

It is important to know that it is also illegal to discriminate against someone because they have opposed illegal discrimination, filed a complaint, or assisted in an investigation.  This is called retaliation, and the law protects those who oppose illegal behavior.

Who commits employment discrimination?

You may be the victim of discrimination by a boss, supervisor or co-worker, but a specific person is not always the offender.  A company's policies or practices or the way they are applied may be discriminatory. 

In employment, PA law applies to companies with four or more employees, and does not apply to federal agencies, law enforcement agencies and certain other entities.  Find out more about the jurisdiction of the PA Human Relations Commission here.

Examples of discriminatory actions*:

  • firing or demoting someone based on factors* other than job performance
  • lowering someone’s pay or paying them less than a co-worker with a comparable job
  • applying a policy that negatively affects one group of people more than others (i.e. hurts only women or only men; or hurts a minority group or people of a specific religion or national origin)
  • offering different discipline, work terms, conditions, benefits or pay to one group* than to others
  • refusing to make a reasonable accommodation for a worker with a disability

*Remember, for discrimination to be illegal, it must be based on the characteristics or factors listed in the second paragraph on this page.  These factors are sometimes called “protected classes.” 

Employment discrimination includes discriminatory job ads, racial harassment, sexual harassment, unequal pay, age discrimination and pregnancy discrimination among many other examples.

Find real life examples of illegal discrimination, definitions of common terms, how to file a complaint and much more elsewhere on this site.  If you don’t find the topic you’re looking for, send an e-mail to phrc@pa.gov.  We may be able to point you in the right direction.