Employment discrimination in hiring is any discriminating practice that biases the selection and recruitment of employees. Federal laws prohibit discrimination in hiring based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, or age. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces these laws. State laws may have additional anti-discrimination regulations.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) all have specific provisions that protect job applicants from unfair treatment. Employers with 15 or more employees must uphold Title VII and the ADA. Employers with 20 or more employees must uphold the ADEA.
Many states and municipalities have protections against discriminatory hiring practices based on sexual orientation, status as a parent, and other characteristics. Your local EEOC office can inform you of your rights under state law.
Intentional discrimination in hiring is illegal under federal laws. The laws restrict other discriminatory hiring practices in the following categories:
Racial discrimination prohibitions. Employers must present the same job requirements to all applicants, regardless of race. The requirements must be job-related and may not disproportionately exclude members of a certain race (e.g., requiring a high school diploma for a manual labor job-a policy that may exclude minority candidates). Information about an applicant's race should not be included in an application or should be kept separate if the employer requires the information for affirmative action purposes. In addition, an employer may not exclude an applicant from consideration for a particular position based on race.
Age discrimination prohibitions. Employers and apprenticeship programs may not include age limits in job postings or advertisements unless age is a bona fide occupational qualification for the job (e.g., a theatre company is allowed recruit younger actors to play the role of a 10-year-old). Although it isn't against the law for an employer to ask an applicant's age or date of birth, these inquiries are closely scrutinized to make sure they don't lead to discriminatory hiring.
Disability discrimination prohibitions. Employers may not ask job applicants about the existence, nature, or severity of a disability. Applicants may be required to verify their ability to do a job and may ask for reasonable accommodation (e.g., ramps or modified equipment) to help them perform specific job functions. A job offer may be conditioned on the results of a medical examination, but only if the examination is required for all applicants for similar jobs. Medical examinations of employees must be job-related and consistent with the employer's business needs.
Gender-based discrimination prohibitions. Employers may not refuse to hire a female applicant because she is pregnant. The pregnancy must be treated in the same way as other temporary physical conditions.
U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: Discrimination by Type-Facts and Guidance (section of home page)