Official State of Iowa Website

Employment Discrimination

It is illegal for employers to treat workers or potential workers worse based on certain protected characteristics. Both federal law and state law protect against discrimination. Employment discrimination can occur at any stage of employment: in the search and hiring process, while the worker is employed, and in decisions to fire a worker.

Even rules and policies that apply to all workers can be discriminatory, if the rule or policy doesn't relate to the job duties and affects people of a protected class more than others. 

Protected characteristics include:Icon of a question mark

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces many federal employment discrimination laws. The Iowa Civil Rights Commission enforces many state discrimination laws.

Which employers are covered?

For federal discrimination law, which employers are covered depends on the specific federal law. Visit the EEOC's Coverage page for more information. 

The Iowa Civil Rights Act employment law protections apply to most employers in Iowa, including state and local government employers and most private employers who regularly employ at least four people, but not the federal government. Iowa Code section 216.6.

Age (back to top)

Both federal law and Iowa law protect workers from age discrimination.

Federal law

Federal law protects people who are 40 and over through the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). This law covers private employers with 20 or more employees. The law also applies to state and local governments and federal agencies, no matter how many employees.

For more information on age discrimination protections under federal law, visit:

Iowa law

Iowa law protects people who are 18 and older from age discrimination. Iowa’s law covers most employers in Iowa, including state and local government employers and most private employers, but not the federal government. 

For more information, visit:

The Iowa Bar Association provides more information on age discrimination here.

Race and Color (back to top)

Race discrimination in employment happens when an employer treats an applicant or worker differently because of their race. Race discrimination includes treating someone differently because of characteristics associated with race, such as skin color or hair texture. Race discrimination can also happen if an employer treats someone differently because they are married to or associated with a person of a certain race.

Both federal law and Iowa law protect against work-related race discrimination.

Federal law

Federal law protections for race/color discrimination apply to employers with 15 or more employees.

For more information on race discrimination protections under federal law, visit:

Iowa law

Iowa law also protects against race/color discrimination. Iowa’s law covers most employers in Iowa, including state and local government employers and most private employers, but not the federal government.

For more information, visit:

Religion (back to top)

Religious discrimination in employment happens when an employer treats someone differently because of their religious beliefs. The law protects people who belong to organized religions, but also protects individuals with sincerely held religious, ethical, or moral beliefs, even if they fall outside of a traditional, long-standing religion.

The law requires employers to make a reasonable change to accommodate workers’ religious beliefs unless the change would be an undue burden to the employer.

Federal law 

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects against religious discrimination. The law applies to employers with 15 or more employees. For more information, visit:

Iowa law

Iowa law also protects workers from religious discrimination. Iowa’s law covers most employers in Iowa, including state and local government employers and most private employers, but not the federal government. 

For more information, visit:

Sex, Gender Identity, Sexual Orientation, and Pregnancy (back to top)

Both federal and Iowa law make it illegal for employers to discriminate because of sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, and pregnancy. 

Sexual harassment is one form of sex-based discrimination. For more information on sexual harassment, visit Iowa Legal Aid’s Sexual Harassment in the Workplace page.

Federal law

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects against sex discrimination. Sex discrimination under this law also includes gender identity, sexual orientation, and pregnancy. The law applies to employers with 15 or more employees. 

Other federal laws also protect against sex discrimination and pregnancy discrimination. These laws sometimes have different employer coverage. For example, the Equal Pay Act applies to almost all employers. 

For more information, visit:

Iowa law

Iowa law also protects against discrimination because of sex, pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation. Iowa’s law covers most employers in Iowa, including state and local government employers and most private employers, but not the federal government.

For more information, visit:

Disability (back to top)

Disability discrimination happens when an employer discriminates against someone for a physical or mental condition that meets the definition of a disability.

Federal law

Under federal law, Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act covers many private employers and state and local government employers. The Rehabilitation Act covers federal government employers. The definition of “disability” is broad, but not all conditions count as disabilities.

For more information, visit:

A disability may require an employer to make a reasonable change to accommodate the individual with a disability. This is called a reasonable accommodation. More information on reasonable accommodations is available from the U.S. EEOC at their Reasonable Accommodation page

Iowa law

Iowa law also prohibits employment discrimination against people with disabilities. Iowa’s law covers most employers in Iowa, including state and local government employers and most private employers, but not the federal government.

For more information, visit:

Genetic Information (back to top)

Federal law

Federal law protects against discrimination based on genetic information through the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA). The part of GINA that applies to employment discrimination is located at 42 U.S.C. Chapter 21F. The law applies to private employers, state government agencies, and local government agencies with 15 or more employees. 

Under GINA, “genetic information” not only includes an individual’s genetic test results, but also the genetic test results of family members, and family members’ medical history. Employers can’t use genetic information to make an employment decision, because this information isn’t relevant to a person’s current ability to work.

For more information, visit:

Iowa law

Iowa law also makes it illegal for employers to discriminate against people based on genetic testing. Iowa Code section 729.6.

National Origin (back to top)

National origin discrimination in employment happens when an employer treats an applicant or worker differently because they are from a particular country or part of the world, because of their accent, because of their ethnicity, or because the employer believes the person is of a certain ethnicity.

Both federal law and Iowa law make national origin discrimination illegal.

Federal law

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act protections against national origin discrimination apply to employers with 15 or more employees. This law is enforced by the EEOC. More information on national origin discrimination protections under federal law is available at:

For employers with 4 to 14 employees, a different law, the anti-discrimination provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act, 8 U.S.C. section 1324b, protects against national origin discrimination. This law is enforced by the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division

Iowa law

Iowa law also protects against national origin discrimination. Iowa’s law covers most employers in Iowa, including state and local government employers and most private employers, but not the federal government.

For more information, visit:

Citizenship or Immigration Status (back to top)

Federal law protects against discrimination based on citizenship or immigration status. This is a separate type of discrimination from national origin discrimination, but both can happen to a person.

Protection against citizenship and immigration status discrimination comes from the Immigration and Nationality Act’s anti-discrimination provision, 8 U.S.C. section 1324b. While the EEOC enforces many anti-discrimination employment laws, this law is enforced by the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division.

Employers can give preference to a U.S. citizen or national if they are equally qualified. An immigrant must also be authorized to work in the United States for an employer to hire them. 

Lawful permanent residents who do not apply for naturalization within six months of eligibility are not protected from citizenship status discrimination. 8 U.S.C. section 1324b(a)(3).

Employers have to verify the identity and employment authorization for everyone they hire. When employers do this, they can’t demand more or different documents from workers because of a worker’s citizenship, immigration status, or national origin. 8 U.S.C. section 1324b(a)(6).

For more information on citizenship or immigration status discrimination, as well as related types of discrimination, visit:


Ask a Law Librarian

Iowa Civil Rights Commission Resources

How to File a Complaint

FAQs

Worker.gov

Equality Rights

Related Pages

Work Law 

Retaliation

Can my employer fire me for any reason?

The information in the People's Law Library is for informational purposes only. Nothing on this website is legal advice. The law is complicated and many aspects of the law change regularly. Consider reaching out to a lawyer. More information about how to find a lawyer, including free and low-cost options, is available on the Finding a Lawyer page.