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Pennsylvania Expands Legal Definitions of Race, Sex and Religious Creed

06 Jul

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Update applicable to:

All employers in Pennsylvania and multi-state employers with workers in Pennsylvania

What happened?

On June 17, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (“PHRC”) passed new regulations under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (“PHRA”) that will go into effect on August 16, 2023.

What are the details?

The PHRA prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of race, color, religious creed, ancestry, age, sex, national origin, or disability. The previous regulations published by the PHRC defined only ‘pregnancy’ and ‘disability due to childbirth,’ leaving the definitions of the other protected classes up to PHRC guidance and Pennsylvania caselaw.

Under the new regulations, the PHRC now includes definitions for ‘race,’ ‘sex,’ and ‘religious creed.’ For the most part, the new definitions track federal and Pennsylvania caselaw, and provide some clarity on areas that were previously ambiguous. Though the changes may seem small, they are likely to have a large impact.

Sex Discrimination

The changes to the definition of ‘sex’ under the PHRA bring the term in line with how courts have interpreted ‘sex’ under Title VII and Title IX. 

Religious Creed Discrimination

Noting some ambiguity with respect to the definition of religious creed under the PHRA, the PHRC added a definition of religious creed. 

Race Discrimination

Perhaps the most significant changes in the regulations relate to race discrimination.

For more information, please see the links below:

The Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA) 

Law Firm Articles: Link 1, Link 2, Link 3, Link 4

What do employers need to do?

Employers should take the opportunity to review their handbooks and Equal Employment Opportunity (“EEO”) policies and programs to ensure compliance with the new regulations. Employers should also review any policies concerning appearance in the workplace to ensure the policy is compliant with the PHRA’s definitions of race, sex, and religious creed. Employers should also make sure employees are aware of their EEO policies, including anti-discrimination and retaliation policies, and the process for reporting complaints.

Need help understanding how changes to employment laws will affect your business?

Learn more about how Vensure's Pennsylvania PEO services can help you navigate complex employment laws and keep your business compliant.


This communication is intended solely for the purpose of conveying information. The present post might incorporate hyperlinks directing readers to websites managed by third-party entities. The inclusion of any links within this communication is meant to serve as points of reference and could encompass opinion articles from various law firms, articles from HR associations, official websites, news releases, and documents of government agencies, and other relevant third-party sources. Vensure has no authority over these external websites and bears no responsibility for their content. Furthermore, Vensure does not endorse the materials present on these websites. The contents of this communication should not be interpreted as legal advice or as a legal standpoint concerning specific facts or scenarios. Nor should it be deemed an exhaustive compilation of facts potentially pertinent to federal, state, or local laws. It is strongly advised that employers solicit legal guidance from an employment attorney when undertaking actions in response to any legal updates provided. This is due to the possibility of future alterations occurring in federal, state, and local laws, regulations, as well as the directives and guidelines issued by governing agencies. These changes may transpire at any given time, potentially rendering certain portions of the content within this update void or inaccurate.

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