News & Events

Employment Law Update: Final Regulations Issued Which Expand Definitions of Protected Classes Under Pennsylvania Human Relations Act

Written by S. Whitney Rahman

In June 2023, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission announced new regulations to the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA) which expansively redefine and broaden the protected classes of “sex,” “race” and “religious creed.” The PHRA protects individuals from discrimination in employment, among other things, based on defined protected classes.

Under the new regulations, the protected class “sex” is redefined to include:

  • Pregnancy, including medical conditions related to pregnancy.
  • Childbirth, including medical conditions related to childbirth.
  • Women affected by pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions.
  • Sex assigned at birth, including, but not limited to, male, female or intersex.
  • A person’s gender, including a person’s gender identity or gender expression.
  • Affectional or sexual orientation, including heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality and asexuality.
  • Differences of sex development, variations of sex characteristics or other intersex characteristics.

Under the new regulations, the protected class “race” is redefined to include:

  • Ancestry, national origin or ethnic characteristics.
  • Interracial marriage or association.
  • Traits historically associated with race, including, but not limited to, hair texture, and protective hairstyles, such as braids, locks and twists.
  • Persons of Hispanic national origin, ancestry, or ethnic characteristics.
  • Persons of any other national origin or ancestry.

Under the new regulations, the protected class “religious creed” is redefined as follows:

  • The term includes all aspects of religious observance, practice, or belief.
  • Religious practices include moral or ethical beliefs as to what is right and wrong that are sincerely held with the strength of traditional religious views. The fact that no group espouses such beliefs or the fact that the religious group to which the individual professes to belong may not accept such belief will not determine whether the belief is a religious belief of a complainant.

Employers remain responsible to provide reasonable accommodations, as needed, for religious reasons. Discrimination claims can include the failure to provide a reasonable accommodation for a religious observance or practice. The defense of undue hardship remains available to employers. The new regulations do not redefine undue hardship.

What Does This Mean For You?

The new regulations will become effective on August 16, 2023. These expanded definitions of protected classes will affect employment practices including discrimination and harassment policies. Employers should familiarize themselves with the new protections provided by the expanded definitions of sex, race, and religious creed. Employers should train its management regarding the expanded protected categories and should review policies and employee handbooks to ensure they are in line with the new regulations.

If you have any questions about this or any other employment or labor law matter, please contact S. Whitney Rahman at or (717) 509-7237, Grace C. Nguyen Bond at or (717) 509-7226, or Beth Ann Ebersole at or (717) 509-7219.

**This update is provided for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice or as creating an attorney-client relationship where one does not already exist.**