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Regulations Define Sex, Race, and Religious Creed Adopted

The Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC) has adopted regulations to define the terms sex, race, and religious creed, as used in the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA), the state’s antidiscrimination law. The PHRA, which generally covers employers with four or more employees in the state, doesn’t define these terms, so the regulations provide employers with additional clarity on what types of discrimination are prohibited. They take effect on August 16, 2023.


While the new definitions largely mirror existing protections under federal law and the way in which state courts and the PHRC interpreted the law already, the definitions of sex and race are particularly broad and comprehensive.


The definition of sex includes:

  • Pregnancy (including related conditions, assisted reproduction, the postpartum period, etc.)
  • Sex assigned at birth
  • Gender, including a person’s gender identity or gender expression
  • Affectional or sexual orientation, including heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality and asexuality (including how others perceive someone’s orientation)
  • Differences of sex development and characteristics


The definition of race includes:

  • Ancestry, national origin, or ethnic characteristics
  • Interracial marriage or association
  • Traits associated with race, including hair texture and styles
  • Hispanic ancestry, national origin, or ethnic characteristics


The term religious creed includes all aspects of religious observance, practice, or belief, regardless of whether a religious group shares these beliefs. Religious creed discrimination includes the failure to provide a reasonable accommodation for a religious observance or practice, absent undue hardship.


Action Items

Review your policies on equal employment opportunity (EEO), appearance, and accommodation, and revise as needed. We also recommend talking to those involved in the hiring process about not making judgments about professionalism or cultural fit based on an applicant’s hairstyle or other traits associated with race.

HR Services Team
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