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What is Equal Employment Opportunity? - Definition, Laws & Policies

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  • 0:00 What Is Equal…
  • 0:24 Policy Objective
  • 1:01 Anti-Discrimination…
  • 4:25 Employer Policies
  • 4:57 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Shawn Grimsley
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.

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