Bona Fide

The term “bona fide” is used to describe something that is presented as authentic or real. For example, a bona fide purchaser is someone who has no reason to raise suspicions that he should not be allowed to purchase a parcel of property. It also speaks to innocence on the purchaser’s part that he has not done anything to cause anyone to believe that he should be considered anything other than a legitimate purchaser. To explore this concept, consider the following bona fide definition.

Definition of Bona Fide


  1. A term used to describe something that has been made or done in good faith, without any attempts to deceive or defraud anyone.


1935-45           Latin    (bonā fidē)

What is Bona Fide?

The term “bona fide” translates to mean “the real thing.” If something is “bona fide,” this means it is the genuine article. Consider the idea of a “bona fide occupational qualification,” which is discussed more fully below. This term refers to a legitimate responsibility that comes with a particular job. For instance, while it may sound infuriating to hear that a woman “can’t do a particular job,” in some cases that may very well be the truth.

Bona Fide Occupational Qualification

A bona fide occupational qualification is a requirement that an applicant must be able to meet in order to do a job. Certain laws, such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, allow employers to legally discriminate against an applicant based on a job’s bona fide occupational qualifications, so long as their discrimination is “reasonably necessary.”

For example, a bona fide occupational qualification for a firefighter is the ability to lift a certain amount of weight. If someone is interested in becoming a firefighter, then he or she must be able to lift that amount of weight. If the applicant is unable to lift the weight due to a physical limitation, then he or she would be passed over, and the applicant who could lift the weight would get the job.

In this case, it may also be acceptable for a person to be discriminated based on gender. For most women, it may be difficult to lift a heavier amount of weight. Therefore, it is legally acceptable for an employer to reject a woman’s job application if the employer feels she physically would not be able to carry out the duties of her job. A person’s race, however, is never an acceptable bona fide occupational qualification.

Bona Fide Residence Test

The bona fide residence test allows certain American citizens and residents to receive a tax break if they have been living and working outside of the U.S. In order to qualify for the bona fide residence test, a person must be living in a foreign country for one full taxable year, with no interruptions. There are some factors the bona fide residence test takes into consideration as well, including:

  • The person’s intention to move and live out of the country
  • The person’s motivation for doing so
  • How long the person will be living out of the country

A bona fide residence is not the same thing as a legal domicile. A domicile is the permanent place that a person calls home. Consider the following example:

A filmmaker is living abroad for a year while making a movie. Once the movie is finished, he intends to return home to his house in Los Angeles. Wherever he is living while he is making the movie is considered his “bona fide residence,” because he is residing there while he makes the picture. However, once he returns to Los Angeles, to the house where his family and all of his belongings are, then he has returned to his domicile.

Something important to note is that just because a person lives out of the country for a year, he does not automatically qualify for a tax break under the bona fide residence test. He must live out of the country for a full tax year, and he must meet the other qualifications presented by the test and considered by the IRS.

Bona Fide Purchaser

A bona fide purchaser (BFP) is someone who innocently purchases an asset, like a piece of property, without having any prior knowledge that someone else may be able to claim the title to the property. A bona fide purchaser must, as the name suggests, purchase the property. Someone who inherits a parcel of property as a gift is not a bona fide purchaser because he did not purchase it.

If a property is fraudulently sold to a BFP when someone else had already laid claim to it, the BFP will still, depending on the laws that govern that jurisdiction, be able to claim ownership of the property. While this may seem unfair, the other party who had laid claim to the property would then be allowed to sue the seller for fraud and deceit to recoup damages.

Bona Fide Example Involving the Discrimination of Pregnant Women

An example of bona fide occupational qualification can be found in the case of Automobile Workers v. Johnson Controls, Inc. from 1991. Here, Johnson Controls, Inc. is a company that makes batteries. During the assembly process, Johnson’s workers are exposed to a high level of lead. As it turns out, eight of Johnson’s female employees became pregnant while the lead levels in their blood was higher than the level recommended by OSHA.

As a result, Johnson announced a policy banning all fertile women from performing any jobs within the company where they could be exposed to these higher levels of lead. Women who could prove they were infertile via medical documentation were permitted to do these jobs. They did not, however, ban fertile men from doing these jobs.

A group of employees who felt discriminated against as a result of this new policy filed a class action lawsuit in District Court, accusing the company of sexual discrimination. The group claimed Johnson was in violation of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The Court ruled in Johnson’s favor, and the Court of Appeals affirmed the decision of the lower court. In addition to the workers failing to satisfy their burden of proof, the Court held that Johnson’s fetal-protection policy was “reasonably necessary” in light of the company’s safety concerns.

Unhappy with the Appellate Court’s decision, the workers filed a writ of certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court, which was ultimately granted. The question posed to the Supreme Court was this: should an employer hold a fertile female employee back from doing a particular job over its concerns for the health of the fetus the woman might one day conceive?

Perhaps surprisingly, the Court ruled – unanimously – that even policies with good intentions can and should be prohibited if they result in discrimination. The major downfall for Johnson was that they did not include fertile men in their concerns, despite the fact that high levels of lead exposure can cause problems with male reproductive health as well.

The Court added that Johnson’s policy could not be considered a bona fide occupational qualification, as it had nothing to do with the women’s ability to do their jobs. While the Court agreed that lead exposure is something that should be minimized when it comes to the unborn, it does not actually impact an employee’s ability to do her job.

Said the Court:

“Our holding today that Title VII, as so amended, forbids sex-specific fetal-protection policies is neither remarkable nor unprecedented. Concern for a woman’s existing or potential offspring historically has been the excuse for denying women equal employment opportunities. (Citation omitted.) Congress in the PDA prohibited discrimination on the basis of a woman’s ability to become pregnant. We do no more than hold that the Pregnancy Discrimination Act means what it says.

It is no more appropriate for the courts than it is for individual employers to decide whether a woman’s reproductive role is more important to herself and her family than her economic role. Congress has left this choice to the woman as hers to make.

The judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.”

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Burden of Proof – The obligation to prove one’s case. In a criminal case, the burden of proof is on the prosecution to prove the defendant’s guilt.
  • Damages – A monetary award in compensation for a financial loss, loss of or damage to personal or real property, or an injury.
  • Fraud – A false representation of fact, whether by words, conduct, or concealment, intended to deceive another.
  • Jurisdiction – The legal authority to hear legal cases and make judgments; the geographical region of authority to enforce justice.
  • Title – A collection of rights to a piece of property that are enjoyed by the owner of that property.
  • Writ of Certiorari – An order issued by a higher court demanding a lower court forward all records of a specific case for review.