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A Bona Fide Occupational Qualification (BFOQ) can be defined as a legally authorized restriction granted to employers to refuse the hiring or a person based on their sex, religion, or national origin. 42 U.S. Code § 2000e-2 allows for an employer to discriminate against employees and potential employees "on the basis of his religion, sex, or national origin in those certain instances where religion, sex, or national origin is a bona fide occupational qualification reasonably necessary to the normal operation of that particular business or enterprise."However, there are conditions for this restriction to be legal: to be defined as “bona fide” the employer should demonstrate that the restriction is related to the business’ particular characteristics and needs, and is justified by the job’s essential tasks and functions. Therefore, BFOQ allows for employment discrimination based on sex, religion or national original if the job’s characteristics justifies it and if such discrimination is necessary. It is important to note that this exemption from employment discrimination liability does not allow the employer to discriminate on the basis of race. The rule stated in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits employment discrimination “based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin” therefore meets an exception which is the BFOQ. BFOQ are present in other federal statutes as well. For instance, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) was enacted to prevent age discrimination in the workplace. The ADEA does contain a bona fide occupational qualification exemption, and the ADEA also requires that the age discrimination must be “reasonably necessary to the normal operation of the particular business.”  Bona fide occupational qualifications typically are invoked when an employer has been accused of employment discrimination. The employer may use the defense that the discrimination was based on a BFOQ. BFOQ are often used for safety reasons, such as imposing a mandatory retirement age for airline pilots and bus drivers. 

For more on bona fide occupational qualifications, see this University of Cincinnati Law Review article, this Louisiana State University Law Review article, and this Journal of Business Studies Quarterly article.

[Last updated in November of 2021 by the Wex Definitions Team]