Equal employment opportunity is an important concept for employers, employees, and job applicants. In this lesson, you’ll learn what equal employment opportunity is as well as the primary laws and policies related to it. A short quiz follows.

What Is Equal Employment Opportunity?

Equal employment opportunity is an employment practice where employers do not engage in employment activities that are prohibited by law. It is illegal for employers to discriminate against an applicant or employee on the basis of:

  • Race
  • Age
  • Color
  • Sex
  • Religion
  • National origin

Policy Objective

The overall policy objective for the employment discrimination laws we will be examining is summed up by the phrase equal opportunity. These laws generally do not aim to create equal outcomes, but rather seek to ensure that all employees or job applicants have an equal opportunity to engage in the employment market. In other words, these laws try to level ‘the playing field’ so that certain classes of people who have been discriminated against in the past are not subjected to adverse treatment based upon certain characteristics that have nothing to do with being a qualified job applicant or employee.

Anti-Discrimination Employment Laws

Now, we’re going to look at the laws that were set up to stop discrimination in the workplace.

Modern anti-discrimination employment laws and policies in the United States have their foundation in the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII of the act makes certain discriminatory practices illegal, including discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Title VII applies to private employers employing 15 or more employees, labor unions, and employment agencies. The Civil Rights Act also helped create the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which is charged with the enforcement of the federal anti-discrimination employment laws.

Title VII protects employees or applicants from discrimination in the many employment activities, including:

  • Recruitment
  • Hiring
  • Promotion
  • Compensation
  • Benefits
  • Training
  • Other employment terms, conditions and privileges
  • Harassment
  • Retaliation, which is adverse action taken because an applicant or employee asserted rights under Title VII or participated in an EEOC proceeding, such as testifying and assisting
  • Segregation and classification
  • Pre-employment inquiries and requirements, which means nothing should be required that tends to disclose a characteristic protected under Title VII
  • Religious practices that don’t impose an undue hardship on an employer

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination in employment due to a disability. It applies to employers who employ 15 employees or more, but it does not apply to the U.S. government. The Rehabilitation Act prohibits disability discrimination and applies to the U.S. government. It generally provides the same rights as the ADA.

Generally speaking, an individual is disabled under the ADA if he or she suffers from a mental or physical impairment that substantially limits a major life activity, has a history of disability, or is perceived to have a disability in certain circumstances. Employers may not discriminate regarding hiring, firing, training, compensation, benefits, and other terms, conditions and privileges of employment.

Employers must also provide reasonable accommodations to applicants or employees who request them. A reasonable accommodation is a modification to the work environment that permits the person to perform the essential functions of the job, such as making a cubicle accessible to a wheelchair. Employers do not have to provide a reasonable accommodation if it would impose an undue hardship.

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) prohibits employers from discriminating against job applicants or employees based upon age. It also makes age harassment illegal. The act applies to applicants and employees aged 40 and over. The law governs employers employing 20 or more employees.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) protects pregnant applicants or employees from being treated unfavorably. It applies to employers that employ 15 or more people. Employers must basically treat a pregnant employee as they treat any other temporarily disabled employee.

The Equal Pay Act requires that men and women be paid the same for the same work. It applies to virtually all employers.

Employer Policies

Employers who violate federal equal employment opportunity laws risk investigation from the EEOC, fines, lawsuits, and exposure to paying significant monetary damages to victims. It is important for employers to have very specific and objective policies regarding all employment practices that are covered by equal employment opportunity laws and to carefully document all adverse employment actions taken against covered employees to have evidence that they have complied with the law.

Lesson Summary

Equal employment opportunity is a government policy that requires that employers do not discriminate against employees and job applicants based upon certain characteristics, such as age, race, color, creed, sex, religion, and disability. Federal laws that provide these protections include Title VII, the ADA, ADEA, PDA, and the Equal Pay Act. It’s important for employers to develop written and objective employment practice policies to protect themselves from violation of law. It’s also important to properly document adverse actions taken as evidence that you have complied with the law.

Key Terms

  • Equal Employment Opportunity: policy that requires fairness in business to all people, races, sexes, etc. in hiring practices
  • Civil Rights Act of 1964: foundation of most anti-discrimination employment laws
  • Title VII: makes discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin illegal
  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) : prohibits discrimination against the disabled
  • Rehabilitation Act : bans discrimination against the disabled in the federal government
  • Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA): bans discrimination pertaining to age
  • Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA): prohibits discrimination against women in the workforce who are pregnant
  • Equal Pay Act: requires that men and women be paid the same for equal jobs

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this lesson, you should be able to accomplish the following:

  • Describe equal employment opportunity in general
  • Identify the various acts and policies that have led to equal employment opportunity