Bona Fide Occupational Qualifications

Although Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects employees from discrimination based on religion, sex, age, national origin and color at the workplace, the law does provide for certain exceptions to the rule. The Bona Fide Occupational Qualifications rule (BFOQ) allows for the hiring of individuals based on race, sex, age, and national origin if these characteristics are bona fide occupational qualifications.

To meet the criteria for a bona fide occupational qualification, an employer must prove the requirement is necessary to the success of the business, demonstrate its necessity by a verifiable method, and prove that the rational basis for this preference for a certain type of employee is rooted in a substantial belief that anyone outside of the preferred class does not have the proper qualifications. An employer must be able to demonstrate a necessity for a certain type of workers because all others are devoid of certain characteristics necessary for employment success.

Examples of BFOQ's are mandatory retirement ages for bus drivers and airplane pilots, manufacturers of specific sex clothing advertising for only male or female models, or churches requiring members of its clergy being a certain denomination. However, for positions at a church such as janitors, it would be illegal to discriminate based religious denomination, as religion has no effect on a person's ability to fulfill the duties of the job. Other examples of bona fide occupation qualifications include the use of models and actors for the purpose of authenticity or genuineness and the requirement of emergency personnel to be bilingual, judged on language competency, not national origin. Employers are also allowed to select employees by asserting a bona fide occupational qualification for safety reasons. Safety BFOQ's are proven by demonstrating how discrimination meets the goal of public safety and that no better alternatives exist.

Limitations to BFOQ include arbitrary, unproven assumptions. Examples of biases include hiring only women as nurses because women are assumed to be more nurturing and caring, or selecting members of a certain sex or racial group because they are perceived to be more aggressive. Decisions are also prohibited from being made on the grounds of co-worker or customer preference. Choosing to not hire a disable receptionist, based on co-worker preference, would be an example of a discriminatory practice and not a legitimate BFOQ.

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