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Know the Difference: Federal vs State Employment Discrimination Laws

Federal law establishes the floor for anti-discrimination laws, but many states and cities have more protective language for employees.

Federal laws protect against discrimination on the basis of age, disability, national origin, color, religion, and sex.  Many states have added to this list of protected categories.  California, for example, protects workers from discrimination based on gender identity, sexual orientation, and marital status, categories that federal law does not.

Additionally, most federal anti-discrimination laws are not triggered unless the employer has at least 15 or 20 employees.  

Other states do not have any protections for certain categories, like Alabama, which does not have a statute to protect against race discrimination.  

Multistate employers should establish the best policy for their organization as a whole, which may mean a more-employee friendly policy than that offered in some states.  Employers should set an example that makes all employees feel protected and valued.