Equal employment opportunity laws protect workers from discrimination based on race, gender, religion, national origin and other personal characteristics. Enforced by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and by designated state and local government agencies, the goal of these laws is to prevent bias and promote fairness in all workplace practices.
Certain equal employment opportunity laws apply to all employers with at least 15 employees, in the private sector as well as in state and local governments and schools. These laws include the Civil Rights Act, Equal Pay Act, Americans With Disabilities Act and Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, which together prohibit discrimination based on race, sex, genetic testing data and impairments such as blindness or hearing loss. A ban on age-based discrimination applies to private firms with 20 or more employees, among other entities.
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EEO laws target both intentional and unintentional discrimination. A recruitment advertisement that discourages female applicants would be an example of deliberate, or intentional, discrimination. But a policy forbidding religious garb, such as a head covering, in the workplace would have a discriminatory effect on certain employees even if it did not arise from prejudice.
Any employee who believes that she has experienced workplace discrimination has the right to file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Depending on the nature of the alleged behavior, the filing deadline will be either 180 days or 300 days from the date of the incident. The EEOC may dismiss a charge if officials decide it lacks merit. Otherwise, the agency can begin an investigation, and/or attempt to mediate and reach a settlement between the parties.
By banning discrimination in recruitment and training, EEO laws help job seekers as well. Also, if an individual can prove that he was fired because of discrimination, the EEOC may force his employer to reinstate him with back pay. Federal affirmative action policies are closely related to EEO laws. While enforceable only in the public sector and in firms holding government contracts, affirmative action boosts diversity in many workplaces by providing outreach and opportunities to certain disadvantaged groups.