Pennsylvania expands anti-discrimination protections for employees | Tucker Arensberg, CP

The Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA) prohibits employers with more than four employees from discriminating against employees based on certain protected classes. Last month, a state agency approved changes to the law that will expand the definitions of some of these protected classes.

Specifically, the amendments broadened the scope of what it means to discriminate against an employee because of their “gender”, “race” and “religious belief”. Among other things, they include more explicit protections for members of the LGBTQ+ community, pregnant workers, and people with traditionally black hairstyles and textures.

Here is an overview of the ways the amendments have expanded the protected classes of the PHRA:

Although some of the PHRA’s expanded categories of protections are covered by federal law, these regulatory changes are important for Pennsylvania employers to understand and ensure compliance. For one thing, the PHRA applies to businesses with as few as four employees, so it affects many businesses that are too small to fall under applicable federal law. And the fact that Pennsylvania chose to change its regulations to explicitly protect these categories likely signals increased investigative and enforcement attention from the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, the agency that investigates complaints from employees filed under the PHRA.

Going forward, employers should take steps to ensure that their human resources department and managers are aware of the expanded bias protections. This regulatory update provides companies with a good training opportunity, as well as an opportune time to review the equal employment opportunity policies in your manual to ensure that your company’s practices and policies follow the law.


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