What does the equal employment opportunity act mean?

Written by amy handlin
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What does the equal employment opportunity act mean?
EEO laws prohibit sex, race, age and other types of discrimination not only in hiring but also in on-the-job training. (woman and a teacher at seminar image by Dmitry Goygel-Sokol from Fotolia.com)

The Equal Employment Opportunity Act was passed in 1972 as an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. It extends Title VII's protections against employment discrimination by empowering an independent law enforcement agency, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, to adjudicate claims of discrimination and sue lawbreakers in federal court.


The vast majority of employers in both the private and public sectors are covered by Equal Employment Opportunity laws, which bar any form of workplace discrimination based on race, colour, religion, sex and other personal characteristics or beliefs. In addition to federal agencies and all businesses with at least 15 employees, EEO protections apply to educational institutions, state and local governments, trade unions and employment agencies. Any employee of a covered entity has the right to file a discrimination complaint with the EEOC.


The original set of federal EEO laws has been amended over the years. For example, the 1960s-era prohibitions against race and sex discrimination have been extended to offer protection from various kinds of mistreatment in the workplace based on age, disability and genetic information. Not only hiring is subject to the laws; nondiscriminatory practices are also required in promotion, pay, termination, layoffs, on-the-job training and disciplinary decisions, among others. Some states and local governments enforce extra protections within their jurisdictions.


A worker who believes that he has experienced discrimination has access to 50 EEOC offices located throughout the United States. Any of these offices can accept a complaint for further processing, though the charge must be filed in writing within 180 days of the alleged discriminatory incident. The EEOC begins by referring the complaint to a state or local fair employment practices agency. Depending on the circumstances, this agency has either 60 or 120 days to respond. If no action is taken by the FEPA during the allotted time, the EEOC will undertake its own investigation.


An EEOC investigation can be lengthy and disruptive. For that reason, the agency offers a formal mediation program and encourages voluntary settlements at any stage of the process. Even if investigators find evidence of possible discrimination, the EEOC will attempt to facilitate an agreement between the parties before going to court. When conciliation fails, the agency is empowered to bring suit on behalf of the employee. If the allegations are proved in court, various penalties or remediations -- like paying lost wages or rescinding a demotion -- may be imposed on the employer.

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