Equal opportunity is a condition of equality in which people are treated equally, unaffected by prejudices, artificial restrictions or personal biases or grounds, except where certain distinctions can be justified. This is often contrasted with minority and protected classes. In the context of the law, it involves an application of legal remedies to ensure that persons having less well-being or lesser good are not deprived of opportunities provided for other less advantaged. The term was first used in the United States in the nineteenth century, but its contemporary meaning came into wider usage during the second World War.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Act guarantees to employers the right to hire, train and place workers into positions according to their abilities and performance. The Act also requires equal opportunity employer would provide training and promote employees based on skills and abilities, rather than on protected characteristics. For this reason, it covers the recruitment, promotion and treatment of workers based on race, colour, sexual orientation, age or other protected characteristics. It does not apply, however, to dismiss, discipline, lay off, retire or dismiss employees in any other capacity.
The purpose of the Act was to prevent discrimination against protected classes. But the Act has also been criticized on its definition of protected characteristics, which some see as giving employers too much power. For this reason, different states have adopted their own definitions of what it means. For example, in Michigan, protected characteristics are defined as being: color, race, sex, national origin, ancestry, citizenship, age, disability, veteran status, religious belief or membership, and political affiliation. An employee must not be discriminated against if, in one or more employment practices, he would be adversely affected by one or more of these characteristics.
Similar to the Fair Labor Standards Act is the European EEO-1 Report. This is the report of the internal affairs office of the European Union, which monitors compliance with the EU Treaties. According to this report, the Treaties ban discrimination in the workplace on the basis of age, disability, religion, union membership, political views, sexual orientation and many other protected characteristics. And as it applies to the United States, the EEOC defines discrimination as any action or inaction by an employer or someone acting on behalf of an employer that makes someone not be treated according to equal employment opportunity.
Similarly, the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission defines discrimination as conduct or an activity designed to create a distinction in the availability of or accessibility to services or job opportunities or to a grant or credit in terms of race, color, gender, religion, national origin, age, or other protected characteristics. So, an employer can refuse to hire someone because of his/her genetic information, or an employee can be asked not to attend a job interview because of his/her ethnic background. Similarly, a person who has been subjected to racial or religious discrimination can file a complaint with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
There are many people who feel that there is no problem of discrimination or of unequal treatment in the workplace. However, this argument is not consistent with the meaning of equal employment opportunity. Those who support discrimination do not believe in equal employment opportunity because they believe that those who are born rich have an entitlement to be treated better than others. They also believe that a person who has been born rich has the potential to become a great leader and contribute something to society. And, for these people, an employee who has been born rich has a lesser chance of getting into politics and making the United States a better place to live.