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Protected Criteria

The protected criteria vary from state to state, as well as on the federal level. Generally speaking, harassment and discrimination based on the following criteria is illegal in the U.S. In addition, it is always unethical to discriminate based on these criteria. Note that your state may have additional protected criteria lot listed here.

Employees are protected from harassment and discrimination based on their actual or perceived:

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Genetic information
  • National origin
  • Pregnancy
  • Race
  • Color
  • Religion
  • Sex 
An individual need not be in the minority to be protected. Harassment and discrimination laws and ethics apply equally to men and women, individuals of a religious faith and atheists, married and unmarried people.

The Supreme Court has specifically upheld that sexual harassment and sexual discrimination does not need to be cross-gender. A man can be guilty of harassing a man; a woman may be guilty of harassing a woman.

Your employees are protected from discrimination and harassment even when they aren’t yet your employees. Individuals are legally protected from harassment and discrimination starting with the hiring process, including advertisements for the position, applications, screening and interviews. Their protection continues through the term of their employment, including the conditions in which they work, as well as any decisions made regarding their promotion, transfer, termination, or separation. Employees cannot be denied access to training programs, apprenticeships, organizations, or unions, based on any of the protected criteria.