A bona fide occupational qualification, also known as BFOQ, is a characteristic or attribute required for a job that could be considered discrimination if it were not necessary to perform the job in question.
For example, a women’s clothing catalog could hire only female models to wear the women’s clothes and the company would have a BFOQ defense for its sex discrimination. Being female would be a bona fide occupational qualification of the modeling job. However, hiring only men as managers or only women as teachers would not be legal. Being a certain gender is not a BFOQ of most jobs.
Employers are not allowed to discriminate on the basis of sex, race, age, religion or national origin. If one of those characteristics can be shown to be necessary for the job, such as hiring Catholic professors to teach Catholic theology at a Catholic school, then a BFOQ exception can be made. The employer must prove that the BFOQ is reasonably necessary to the operation of the business.
The BFOQ is important to feminism and women’s equality. Feminists of the 1960s and other decades successfully challenged stereotypical ideas that limited women to certain professions. This often meant reexamining ideas about job requirements in order to create more opportunities for women in the workplace.