Expanding Equal Rights: Pennsylvania’s New Definitions in the Human Relations Act

In a significant step towards inclusivity and fairness, Pennsylvania has recently approved amendments to its Human Relations Act, broadening the definitions of race, gender, and religious creed under the act’s provisions. These changes, which just took effect on August 17, 2023, bring important protections to categories not previously covered by the law. They promote equality and respect in the workplace and beyond.

One of the most notable updates is the expansion of the definition of race. It now encompasses not only traditional aspects like ancestry and national origin but also includes traits historically associated with race. Hairstyles, such as braids, locks, and twists, which are important cultural expressions for many individuals, are now covered. Furthermore, the inclusion of “any other national origin or ancestry as specified by a complainant in a complaint”, ensures that individuals can assert their own unique identity, providing them with the protection they deserve.

The amendments also reflect a significant leap forward in terms of gender inclusivity. The definition of sex has been expanded to include sexual orientation, acknowledging the importance of recognizing and respecting an individual’s affectional or sexual orientation. This addition highlights Pennsylvania’s commitment to fostering an environment where everyone can be their authentic selves without fear of discrimination or harassment.

Religious creed, under the updated regulations, now includes not just beliefs but also all aspects of religious observance and practice. This broader definition ensures that individuals are protected across the spectrum of their religious commitments, preventing any form of discrimination based on their faith or practices.

These changes are pivotal in ensuring that Pennsylvania remains a state that champions equality and diversity. Employers, in particular, should take note of these expanded definitions and consider revisiting their discrimination and harassment policies and updating their employee handbooks. It’s crucial to create an environment where all complaints are taken seriously and investigated thoroughly, as outlined in the amended regulations. By doing so, employers can play a pivotal role in upholding the principles of fairness and inclusivity.

As the new regulations come into effect, Pennsylvania is taking a positive stride towards a more equitable society, one that values the uniqueness of its citizens while fostering an environment where everyone can thrive, regardless of their race, gender, or religious beliefs. It’s a commendable move that sends a clear message: Pennsylvania is committed to safeguarding the rights and dignity of all its residents.


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