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Bona Fide Occupational Qualification (BFOQ)

Jobs with functions that require certain qualifications based on race, color, age, religion, sex or national origin may discriminate against individuals who do not possess the qualifications. A well-known example is airline pilots who must retire at age 60. The pilot is being forced to retire because of age; normally, this would be a discriminatory action, yet courts have held that age is a BFOQ in this specific situation. Therefore, the airlines are not discriminating by making the pilot retire.

Is race a bona fide occupational qualification?

No. The law specifically mentions only religion, sex and national origin as possible job qualifications. Courts have held that race is never a BFOQ.

When is gender or sex a bona fide qualification?

Sex is a BFOQ when the employer can show that only a person of a certain sex can effectively perform the job duties required. For example, a university can hire only female resident advisors in all-female dormitories since a male employee would invade the privacy interests of the residents, making his job duties difficult to perform.

SIDEBAR: If a certain gender is necessary for the purpose of authenticity or genuineness in the job, no law is violated and the EEOC allows the BFOQ. A primary example is theatrical, television or motion picture employment requiring a male actor or female actress.

Can I be required to convert to another religion as a condition for staying employed?

Yes. For instance, a Catholic university may require its religious professors to be members of the Catholic faith.

TIP: Certain employment in the Middle East may require conversion to the Muslim faith. For instance, a pilot flying to Saudi Arabia must be Muslim because his route takes him into Mecca, which is off-limits to non-Muslims.