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Employment Laws in the District of Columbia

Filed under Hiring Workers. Fact checked on December 17, 2012.

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Employers in the District of Columbia must conform to these state rules relating to the employment relationship.

An employee is an individual employed by or seeking employment from an employer.

An employer is a person who, for compensation, employs an individual, except for the employer's parent, spouse, children or domestic servants, engaged in work in and about the employer's household; any person acting in the interest of an employer, directly or indirectly; and a professional association.

Not covered are religious or political organizations operated for charitable or education purposes that are operated, supervised or controlled by a religious or political organization to promote their religious or political principles.

Prohibited Employment Discrimination

It is an unlawful discriminatory practice for an employer to discriminate against employees or job applicants based on:

  • race (of the employee or job applicant and that of individuals with whom the employee or applicant has a relationship)
  • color
  • religion
  • national origin
  • sex (including pregnancy, childbirth and related medical conditions, and breastfeeding)
  • age (defined as being between 18 and 65)
  • marital status
  • personal appearance
  • sexual orientation
  • gender identity or expression
  • family responsibilities (the state of being or the potential to become a contributor to the support of a person or persons in a dependent relationship)
  • physical handicap (a special law applies the anti-discrimination in employment provisions to "the blind and the otherwise physically disabled")
  • matriculation (the condition of being in a college or university; in a business, nursing, professional, secretarial, technical or vocational school; or in an adult educational program on a full- or part-time basis)
  • political affiliation

The prohibition also covers discrimination against individuals in admission to or employment in any training or retraining program.

Religious accommodation. Employers of five or more employees must make a reasonable accommodation for an employee's religious observance by permitting the employee to make up time lost due to the observance, unless an accommodation would cause the employer undue hardship.

Use of tobacco products. Employment discrimination based on the use of tobacco or tobacco products is prohibited, but employers may establish restrictions on smoking in the workplace based on a bona fide occupational qualification.

An employer can not discharge, refuse to hire, or in any manner retaliate against an employee, applicant for employment, or customer, because that employee, applicant, or customer exercises any rights afforded by the smokefree workplace law or reports any violation of the law.

Genetic information. Employment discrimination based on genetic information is prohibited. An exemption allows for the use of genetic testing or information with the written and informed consent of the employee or applicant to determine the existence of a bona fide occupational qualification, investigate a workers' compensation or disability compensation claim, or to determine an employee's susceptibility or exposure to potentially toxic substances in the workplace.

Service animals. The Service Animal Amendment Act of 2010, provides that service animal trainers who are training an animal to be a service animal are subject to the same access and liability provisions as a person who is blind or deaf.

Same-sex marriage. Same-sex marriage is allowed in the District of Columbia.

Recordkeeping Requirements

Every employer that is subject to the anti-discrimination in employment law must preserve any regularly kept business records for a period of six months from the date the record was made or from the date of the action that is the subject of the record, whichever is longer. Records should include application forms, credit and reference reports, personnel records and any other records pertaining to the status of an individual's enjoyment of the rights and privileges protected or granted under the Human Rights Act.

Posting Requirements

Every employer that is subject to the Human Rights Act must post and keep posted in a conspicuous location where business or activity is customarily conducted or negotiated, a notice whose language and form have been prepared by the District of Columbia Office of Human Rights, outlining the Human Rights Act and providing information pertinent to the filing of a complaint.

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