What is a Protected Group?

Protected Groups and Types of Discrimination

What do we mean by protected groups? A protected group is a collection of individuals who are protected from discrimination under applicable laws. This ensures that decisions are made on merit, not prejudice.


“I’m the only foreign national on my team but I’m treated just the same as my colleagues. We’re also a really ethnically mixed team. Everyone receives the same level of respect and we focus on our individual skills, not our individual backgrounds.”

Discrimination on the grounds of national origin includes unfavorable treatment of a person due to their ethnic background, or the ethnic backgrounds of those with whom they choose to associate. Discrimination against someone because of his or her race or skin color is never acceptable.


“I’m expecting my second child this year, but I’m still on track for a senior management position.” 

Discrimination laws forbid treating women unfavorably because of pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition.


“My employer has gone above and beyond to accommodate my disability needs.”

Employers must provide reasonable accommodation to employees or applicants with disabilities to help them perform the essential functions of a job, unless doing so would create an undue hardship as defined by local laws, or a risk of danger to the safety of the employee or others.


“I’m 52 next birthday, but that won’t stop me being promoted if I’m the right person for the job!”

It is not acceptable to discriminate against individuals on the basis of their age.


“My beliefs and dress have never been an issue for my employers, so I can focus on my job and not worry about what others are thinking.”

Employers may not discriminate against an individual’s religious beliefs and must provide appropriate reasonable accommodations for employees with regard to those beliefs.

Types of Harassment (US ONLY SCREEN)

Harassment is a form of discrimination and refers to unwelcome verbal, visual, or physical conduct that denigrates or shows hostility, disrespect, or aversion toward an individual or group because of the individual or group’s protected class.
There are two types of harassment:

  •  Quid Pro Quo
  •  Hostile Work Environment
Quid Pro Quo

Quid pro quo refers to promising or denying something in exchange for favors. This type of harassment occurs in a supervisor/subordinate relationship and is linked to the grant or denial of job benefits, such as getting or retaining a job, receiving a favorable performance review or promotion.The essence of the quid pro quo theory is that a supervisor relied upon his or her apparent or actual authority to extort sexual consideration from a subordinate.

Quid Pro Quo Examples

A typical case involves some form of sexual advance or proposition by a supervisor with an express or implied threat that, if the employee refuses, he or she will suffer negative employment repercussions; or alternatively, that the employee may be promised better treatment if the employee submits to the sexual advances.

For example:

  •  Bob, the CEO of Acme Company, promises Ellie, a sales manager, a promotion if she goes on a date with him.
  •  Anna, a director, suggests to her direct report, Mark, that if he goes to happy hour on Thursday with her, his next evaluation might look better than the last one. Mark is uncomfortable with this proposition but feels he has no choice but to go to happy hour with Anna.
  •  Alex’s supervisor tells her that unless she agrees to date him, he’ll reduce her work hours and ensure she isn’t considered for a promotion for which she has applied.

Hostile Work Environment

This type of harassment must involve unwelcome conduct that is severe or pervasive and that unreasonably interferes with an individual or group’s ability to do his, her, or their job. Hostile work environment harassment is judged by a “reasonable person” standard. In law, a reasonable person is a composite of a relevant community’s judgment as to how a typical member of said community should behave in situations that might pose a threat of harm (through action or inaction) to others.

Affirmative Defense (US ONLY SCREEN)

It is easy to see the benefits of a culture that refuses to accept harassment and discrimination of any kind. This type of culture does not happen by accident. It is our policies, procedures, and internal training initiatives—including this training module—that protect us as individuals and protect the organization. From a legal perspective, under federal law, an employer can avoid liability for discrimination if it can show three things.

Reason One

That it had policies/procedures in effect to prevent such inappropriate workplace conduct from happening.

Reason Two

That the complainant failed to utilize those policies/procedures.

Reason Three

Had the complainant utilized those policies/procedures, he/she would have avoided some or all of the harm.


In the state of California, if an employer can show these three things, they may see a reduction in the amount of damages awarded to a plaintiff, but liability is not eliminated.


In the state of Delaware, liability for harassment by a non-supervisor can be avoided if an employer can show that they exercised reasonable care to prevent and correct any harassment promptly, and that the employee unreasonably failed to take advantage of any preventive or corrective opportunities provided by the employer.

Drafting the Job Advertisement

I have to fill a managerial position, so I have to draft the job advertisement. This is a strategic hire so it’s vitally important that I get the best possible person for the role. I’ve got three drafts done and I’m very conscious that I have to ensure that I don’t discriminate against any potential candidates. I want the best hire regardless. Javier needs to fill a managerial position without discriminating. He has compiled three drafts for the job advertisement. Which draft should he use to avoid discriminating against potential candidates?
Select the best draft.

  •  Managerial position at a fast-growing international company. 25% travel required, both national and international. Degree level candidates
  • with at least five years managerial experience required.
  • Managerial position at a fast-growing international company. 25% travel required, both national and international so full mobility required. Degree level candidates with at least five years managerial experience required.

Managerial position at a fast-growing international company. 25% travel required, both national and international. Only candidates under 45 as regular long-distance travel involved.


Employers cannot reject candidates based on a disability or age or any other groups protected by law. Remember, discriminatory conduct is prohibited in all aspects of the employment process, including recruitment. You must not discriminate against protected groups during the recruitment process.

Providing Access

Javier has shortlisted five candidates. One uses a wheelchair and has requested suitable parking and access to the building.
Which two actions are acceptable for Javier to take?

  •  Check access routes to the building and the room where the interviews will take place, ensuring that the candidate will not encounter any difficulties.
  •  Contact the candidate and explain that as the role will involve a lot of travel, she probably isn’t suitable for the position.
  •  Offer to meet the candidate in a coffee shop across the road instead of his office.

Check with building maintenance to see if they can reserve a parking space for the candidate so that she has easy access to the building.


Unless it causes an employer undue hardship, refusing to accommodate an applicant or employee with a disability is discrimination. Offering to meet a candidate in an offsite location like a coffee shop is a nice gesture, but it means the interview experience will differ from the experience of other candidates. The candidate may feel at a disadvantage in a loud public environment.Remember, always do what you can to treat all candidates equally.

Possible Pregnancy

Javier’s first choice candidate tells him that she is getting married in the summer and would like to have children ‘in the next few years.’ What are the consequences if he rejects her application because she might become pregnant and vacate the position?
Which two of these are possible consequences?

  •  Javier would leave himself open to potential legal action that could result in liability to the company and potential personal liability for himself.
  •  None. Javier would be perfectly within his rights. The candidate could become pregnant and take maternity leave, forcing Javier to fill the position again at great cost.
  •  Any case of discrimination brought against the company could have a negative impact on the workforce, company productivity, profitability, and reputation.
Thanks for helping Javier

Pregnancy is a class that is protected under law. Marital status is a class that is protected in many jurisdictions. Rejecting a female candidate on grounds related to gender, pregnancy, or marital status is discrimination and can result in legal action, along with negative impacts to the workplace.
Remember, it’s important that you:

  •  Do not discriminate against individuals or members of protected groups.
  •  Reasonably accommodate employees or interviewees with disabilities.
  •  Understand the penalties for discriminating against an employee either in employment or in the interview process.
  •  Take responsibility for accessing and using the policies, procedures, communications, and training opportunities made available to you.

This is content from our Anti Harassment and Discrimination course.

Download our Anti Harassment and Discrimination booklet.
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