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DC Employment Law: What are the Protected Classes for DC Employees?

  • By: lipplaw
    Published: March 30, 2024

There are 18 protected classes for Washington, DC workers under the DC Human Rights Act (DCHRA):

  1. Race
  2. Color
  3. Religion
  4. National origin
  5. Sex
  6. Age
  7. Marital status
  8. Personal appearance
  9. Sexual orientation
  10. Gender identity or expression
  11. Family responsibilities
  12. Political affiliation
  13. Disability
  14. Matriculation
  15. Genetic information
  16. Credit information
  17. Status as a victim or family member of a victim of domestic violence, a sexual offense, or stalking
  18. Homeless status

What is a Protected Class in the Workplace?

A protected class means that a worker who falls within that category cannot be discriminated against based on that class, or if they are advocating for a worker who falls within that protected class. Washington, DC has some of the most expansive employment law protections for employees in the United States.

What Employers are Covered by the DC Human Rights Act?

Any company that employs 1 or more employees, independent contractors, or unpaid interns who are physically working in Washington, DC are covered by the DC Human Rights Act. Also, employers that have a physical presence in Washington, DC are covered by the DCHRA.

What Workers are Covered by the DC Human Rights Act?

All employees, independent contractors, and unpaid interns that physically perform their job duties in Washington, DC are covered by the DC Human Rights Act. The DCHRA broadly defines “employee,” and includes in its definition independent contractors and unpaid interns.

What if An Employee Works Remotely, or Works in Multiple Locations?

If an employee works in DC and is discriminated against in DC, then the DC Human Rights Act will apply. If the discrimination does not take place in DC, the DCHRA could still apply if the adverse employment decision was made in DC, or if the effects of that decision are felt in DC.

If an employee physically performs work remotely, or in multiple locations, the DC Human Rights Act looks to whether the “alleged discriminatory acts occurred in [DC].” Cole v. Boeing Co., 845 F.Supp.2d 277, 284 (D.D.C. 2012). So, if an employee works in Virginia, but travels to DC and is discriminated against in DC, the employee will be protected by the DCHRA.

Also, the DCHRA will apply to an adverse employment decision made in DC, or if the “effects” are “felt” in DC. Monteilh v. AFSCME, AFL-CIO, 982 A.2d 301, 303-305 (D.C. 2009).

What Are the Protected Traits for Employment in Washington, DC?

There are 18 protected traits, also referred to as protected classes, that apply to employment in Washington, DC. These traits are covered in depth below.

  1. Race

Race is “classification or association based on a person’s ancestry or ethnicity.”[1]

  1. Color

Color is “skin pigmentation, including variations in skin pigmentation.”[2]

  1. Religion

Religion is a “personal set or institutionalized system of attitudes, beliefs, and practices relating to a supernatural force or being, or its equivalent in secular faiths, including the presence or absence of commitment or devotion to any faith.”[3]

Religion does not need to be an organized religion, and can be something that you personally believe in.

  1. National origin

National origin is “the state, country, or nation state where an individual or their ancestors are from.”[4]

  1. Sex

Sex is “the state of being biologically male, female, or intersex including medical conditions and reproductive health decisions associated therewith.”[5]

  1. Age

Age covers “18 years of age or older,”[6] and not only protects older workers, but covers any kind of age discrimination. For employers with 20+ employees, they are covered by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), which is a federal statute protecting older workers aged 40+.

  1. Marital status

Marital status means “married, in a domestic partnership, single, divorced, separated or widowed, and the usual conditions associated therewith, including pregnancy or parenthood.”[7]

  1. Personal appearance

Personal appearance means “outward appearance, irrespective of sex and gender identity or expression, including hair style and color, facial hair, tattoos, body size or shape, and body piercings, subject to business requirements and standards.”[8]

  1. Sexual orientation

Sexual orientation means “an individual’s romantic and/or sexual attraction for another person(s); includes relationship types such as aromantic, ethical non-monogamy, open relationships, polyamory, etc.”[9]

  1. Gender identity or expression

Gender identity or expression means “a gender-related identity, appearance, expression, or behavior of an individual, regardless of the individual’s assigned sex at birth.”[10]

  1. Family responsibilities

Family responsibilities means “supporting an individual in a legal dependent or blood relationship, which includes, but is not limited to, children, grandchildren, and parents.”[11]

  1. Political affiliation

Political affiliation means “the state of belonging to or endorsing any political party.”[12]

  1. Disability

Disability means “a physical or mental impairment substantially limiting one or more major life activities; physical can include auditory, speech, visual, and/or neurological impairments and mental can include cognitive and learning impairments.”[13]

  1. Matriculation

Matriculation means “being enrolled in a college, university, or some type of secondary school or program, including vocational programs.”[14]

  1. Genetic information

Genetic information means “an individual’s DNA or genetic predisposition, a family member’s genetic predisposition, information resulting from requests for genetic testing, or history which may indicate the likelihood or increase risk of an individual’s predisposition to develop a disease, illness, syndrome, or condition.”[15]

  1. Credit information

Credit information means “any written, oral, or other communication of information bearing on an employee’s creditworthiness, credit standing, credit capacity, credit score, or credit history.”[16]

  1. Status as a victim or family member of a victim of domestic violence, a sexual offense, or stalking (DVSOS)

Status as a victim or family member of a victim of domestic violence, a sexual offense, or stalking (DVSOS) means “when an individual is a victim or family member of a victim of domestic violations, sexual offense, or stalking.”[17]

Employees who fall within this protected class can face disciplinary actions by employers when their aggressors attack them in the workplace or cause issues at their workplace. Also, employees who fall within this protected class may have to take time off work to attend court hearings or participate in the judicial process, requiring extra protections.

  1. Homeless status

Homeless status means “an individual, family, or youth who lacks, lost, or will imminently lose a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence, which can include the result of escaping an unsafe environment.”[18]

Washington, DC has a significant population of unhoused individuals, and this protected class is one of the most recent additions to the protections of the DCHRA for employees.

Other Protected Traits

The DCHRA includes other protected traits that do not apply to employment, but apply to educational institutions, housing, and public accommodations or government services.

For educational institutions, housing, and public accommodations or government services, the trait of “source of income” is protected. This is not a protected trait for employment.[19]

For housing and public accommodations or government services, “place of residence or business” is a protected trait.[20]

For housing, “sealed eviction record” and “status as a victim of an intrafamily offense” are protected traits.[21]

It is important to know what are protected traits in your Washington, DC workplace. It can be confusing trying to figure this out without the help of a trained employment lawyer familiar with Washington, DC employment laws.

Get Legal Advice for Washington, DC Employment Law

It can be difficult to determine what laws apply to a company that employs workers in multiple states. To receive legal advice specific to your situation regarding DC employment law, Lipp Law can help you. Contact The Lipp Law Firm today to receive legal advice regarding Washington, DC employment law. Lipp Law assists employers, executives, and professionals throughout Washington, DC, Maryland, and Virginia with employment law, business law, intellectual property law, and employment and business litigation. 

[1] DC Office of Human Rights Website, Protected Traits Under the DC Human Rights Act, https://ohr.dc.gov/protectedtraits.

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] Id.

[15] Id.

[16] Id.

[17] Id.

[18] Id.

[19] Id.

[20] Id.

[21] Id.

Kathryn Megan Lipp

Katie dedicates her practice to employment separation guidance.
Based on her successful employment litigation practice...Read More