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Employment discrimination and harassment

Employers can’t treat you unfairly because of your race, sex, disability or age over 40. They also should provide a work environment that’s free from harassment. Learn more about discrimination and harassment under Ohio employment laws.

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Understanding your rights

Ohio and federal laws protect against discrimination and harassment in the workplace.

In general, you have the right to:

  • Be treated fairly. Employers can’t treat you unfairly or differently because you belong to a certain group of people, like your race, sex, age or other “protected class.” Even before you get a job, employers can’t discriminate based on these protected characteristics.
  • Not face harassment at work. Harassment involves unwelcome behavior in the workplace based on race, sex or other protected factors.
  • Ask for an accommodation for a disability. If you have a disability, you can ask for a reasonable change, called a reasonable accommodation, to help you do the job.

Protected classes in Ohio

Under Ohio law, employers can’t treat you differently because of your:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Religion
  • Sex (including pregnancy, sexual orientation and gender identity)
  • Military status
  • National origin
  • Disability
  • Age (40 and over)
  • Ancestry

These are Ohio’s protected classes. Getting a job, interview or promotion should be based on your qualifications for the job, not these characteristics.

In Ohio, employers must follow these laws if they are any of the following:

  • Employing 4 or more people
  • The state or local government
  • A labor union
  • An employment agency

Federal laws may offer additional protections, such as not discriminating based on genetic information.

What employers shouldn’t ask

Employers shouldn’t ask about your race, color, religion, sex, military status, national origin, disability, age (40 or older) or ancestry when you are applying for a job.

During an interview or job application process, an employer should:

  • Not ask your age. In general, employers shouldn’t ask when you graduated high school or your date of birth.
  • Not ask if you’re married or have kids. They shouldn’t ask if you plan to have kids, who will take care of your kids or if your spouse also works.
  • Not ask about your race or ancestry. They shouldn’t ask about the origin of your name, where you were born or other information about your race or ancestry.
  • Not ask about disabilities. They shouldn’t ask about your health, illnesses or surgeries.
  • Not ask about your religion. They shouldn’t ask what church you attend, which holidays you will need off or other questions about your religion.

Some questions could be lawful once an employer hires you or offers you a job. For example, an employer may ask you for your date of birth to run a background check or for employment taxes. They also may ask if you are old enough to work legally. For example, you must be at least 21 years old to be a bartender in Ohio.

Questions employers may ask

Employers may ask you about skills and experiences that are directly related to the job.

Employers may ask questions like the following:

  • What are your skills? They may ask about your past working experiences and how you qualify for the job.
  • Can you work the schedule? They may ask if you can work the hours listed in the job description and if you have reliable transportation.
  • Do you meet the job qualifications? They may ask if you have the degree or license you need for the job and if you can legally work in the U.S.
  • Can you provide references? They may ask to talk to others about your past work performance, like your timeliness and ability to follow instructions.

Examples of discrimination

Discrimination can happen at any point in the employment process.

It may be discrimination if:

  • A job application asks for date of birth. Employers can’t discriminate against you based on age if you’re 40 or older, so they shouldn’t ask for your date of birth on a job application. They also can’t use any protected characteristic to decide not to interview or hire you.
  • Jobs are limited based on race or sex. Employers can’t use a protected characteristic, like your race or sex, to reduce your pay, refuse to give you job training or change your working conditions. Also, an employment agency shouldn’t use a protected characteristic to refuse to place you in a job or limit where you are placed.
  • Pregnant employees are treated differently. Employers can’t discriminate against you because of your sex, including because you are pregnant. You have the right to be treated the same as employees who are not pregnant.
  • Employees over a certain age are fired. Employers can’t discriminate against you based on your age if you’re over 40, so they shouldn’t fire you just because of your age.

You can learn more about unlawful discriminatory practices in Ohio law under Ohio Revised Code Section 4112.02.

If you suspect discrimination, you should know:

  • Unfair treatment can vary. When an employer treats you differently because of your race, sex or other protected class, it may mean getting fired, not getting an interview, not getting hired, not getting promoted or not getting a benefit that’s been given to someone else. The unfair treatment is called “disparate treatment.”
  • You have the right to report it. Try to communicate directly with the employer. You also can file a charge with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission. You must file an employment charge with the commission within 2 years if you want the right to sue in court.
  • Employers should not retaliate. Employers should not treat you unfairly because you speak out against discrimination. If you suspect retaliation or “adverse action,” you can file an employment charge with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission.

When employers can treat you differently

In a few situations, employers are allowed to treat people differently based on personal characteristics. For example:

  • Ministers may be asked about religion. Religious organizations can ask about your religious beliefs if you’re applying to be a minister, priest or similar position.
  • Police and firefighters may have age requirements. Fire departments can require you to be between 18 and 40 when you’re first appointed to the department. Police departments can require you to be 35 or younger when you’re first appointed.
  • Employers may set “bona fide” qualifications. In limited situations, employers can have job requirements called “bona fide occupational qualifications” or qualities needed to do the job, like being able to lift a certain amount of weight for a delivery job.


Harassment is unwelcome behavior based on protected factors including race, sex, religion, age (40 or older) or disability.

It may be unlawful harassment if:

  • It involves unwelcome behavior. Just because you don’t speak up doesn’t mean the behavior is welcome. For example, even if you are in a relationship with the person, it still may count as harassment.
  • It affects the work environment. Harassment can create a hostile work environment. It may involve offensive jokes, slurs, name calling, threats, intimidation or physical harm. Even if the behavior is not directed at you personally, it may be harassment. Note: A hostile work environment is not the same as a “toxic” work environment.
  • The harasser has some authority. The harasser doesn’t have to be your direct supervisor. It could be someone else with control over your employment, like another manager, a coworker or a customer.
  • You’re asked for a sexual favor. If you’re asked for sex in exchange for getting something like money or a promotion, it may be sexual harassment called “quid pro quo.”

If you suspect discrimination or harassment, you should:

  • Report the problem. Your complaint should be taken seriously. Your employer should provide a work environment that is free of unlawful discrimination and harassment. Check your employee manual or HR policies to understand how to make your report.
  • Try to work with your employer. Your employer should promptly investigate your complaint. You may need to participate in the investigation. It may not be completely confidential, but your employer shouldn’t retaliate against you. Communicate with your employer throughout the investigation.

Reasonable accommodations

A “reasonable accommodation” is a change to the job or working conditions that would help you do the job.

You may have the right to a reasonable accommodation if:

  • You have a disability. You must have a physical or mental disability that limits your ability to do the job.
  • You qualify for the job. Your disability limits you, but otherwise you are qualified to do the job.
  • The employer has 4 or more employees. In Ohio, you may have the right to a reasonable accommodation if your employer has 4 or more employees.
  • The change is reasonable. What’s reasonable depends on the situation, including the size of your company.

It may be reasonable for the employer to:

  • Install a ramp
  • Get you a screen reader or accessible computer software
  • Change your work schedule
  • Restructure your job
  • Change your office layout

When you request a reasonable accommodation, you should:

  • Contact your employer. Put your request in writing or talk to your employer. Your employer may have a form you can use to request a reasonable accommodation.
  • Describe the change you want. Explain what you are requesting and how it will help you do the job. Also explain why you are making the request, such as because of your medical condition. Describe how it limits your ability to do the essential functions of the job.
  • Make sure it’s reasonable. What is “reasonable” depends on the situation. If it’s very expensive or could put other employees at risk, it may not be reasonable.
  • Work with your employer. You must work together with your employer in what’s called the “interactive process” to try to find a solution.

Working with your employer

Once you request a reasonable accommodation, your employer must start the interactive process.

During the interactive process, you should:

  • Provide information. If you’re asked for details, provide information that shows the connection between your disability and the need for the accommodation you are requesting. You may need to give proof that you have a disability and the nature of the disability.
  • Offer a doctor’s note if your employer asks. Your employer may ask for verification from your doctor or health care provider about how your disability affects your ability to do the job and how the accommodation would help.
  • Cooperate with your employer. Work together to find out if an accommodation is possible.
  • Be open to other solutions. Your employer doesn’t have to give you the exact accommodation you are asking for. They could suggest a different, alternative solution. Be open to other options.

Filing a charge

If you can’t solve a problem directly with your employer:

  • Contact the Ohio Civil Rights Commission. The Ohio Civil Rights Commission has a free service to help employers and employees. You can file an employment charge on the commission’s website. Don’t identify your disability or medical condition in your charge.
  • File your charge within 2 years. Under Ohio law, for employment complaints, you must file your charge within 2 years of when the discrimination or harassment happened. You must file a charge with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission before you can sue in state court. The commission will review your complaint. In most cases, you must get a “Notice of Right to Sue” from the commission before you can file a lawsuit. The filing deadline and process is different under federal law. Learn more about the EEOC process, if you want to sue or seek relief under federal law.

Where to get help 

Employment law is complicated. If you can, talk to a lawyer.

You can find a lawyer who specializes in employment law through the state or local bar associations or through the Ohio Employment Lawyers Association (OELA).

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