Employees in Pennsylvania are protected from workplace discrimination based on certain traits, such as ethnicity or sex. Congress and the Pennsylvania legislature have decided that these traits, called protected characteristics, are not a fair basis for employment decisions—including who to hire, who to fire, and how much to pay employees. Below, we explain your rights under the state and federal laws that prohibit employment discrimination, including which employers must comply with the laws. (For more on this topic, see our employment discrimination and harassment page.)
Federal Laws Banning Employment Discrimination
Federal laws—including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act—protect employees in all 50 states against discrimination based on:
- national origin
- age (applies only to employees who are 40 years of age or older)
- genetic information, or
- physical or mental disability.
These federal laws make it illegal for employers of a certain size to discriminate in all aspects of employment, including hiring, benefits, promotions, pay, discipline, and termination. You are protected from discrimination if you work for a private employer with at least 15 employees (or 20 employees, for age discrimination).
Government employees are protected from discrimination, too. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act applies to all federal, state, and local government employers. For other types of discrimination, all federal government employers are covered, and state and local government employers are covered if they have at least 15 employees.
Pennsylvania Laws Banning Employment Discrimination
In Pennsylvania, the Human Relations Act prohibits employment discrimination by private employers with four or more employees. The law also covers the state and its political subdivisions (such as boards, commissions, and school districts). Pennsylvania’s Human Relations Act law prohibits discrimination based on:
- race or color
- ethnicity or national origin
- disability (including relationship or association with a person with a disability)
- age (40 and older only)
- use of a service animal, or
- having a GED rather than a high school diploma.
Agencies That Enforce Discrimination Laws
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the government agency that enforces federal laws prohibiting workplace discrimination. The EEOC website provides details on Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the primary federal law that prohibits employment discrimination, as well as the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and other federal laws. See Laws Enforced by EEOC for details. See our article on how to file an EEOC claim or visit the EEOC’s website for more information.
The Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission enforces state laws prohibiting workplace discrimination. To learn more, visit the Commission’s website, which provides information on state laws prohibiting discrimination and the process for filing a complaint.
Finding an Employment Law Attorney in Pennsylvania
If you believe you have been discriminated against at work, you should talk to an experienced Pennsylvania employment lawyer. A lawyer can assess your situation, explain the laws that might apply, and evaluate the strength of your claims. A lawyer can also advise you on how to proceed, including filing a complaint or lawsuit, and what damages might be available if you win.