Equality of opportunity refers to the condition of having access to equal opportunities in life. In many societies, people have been placed in certain positions based on extrinsic traits such as gender, age, race, or tribe. Sometimes these positions are necessary for the survival of the society. However, unequal opportunity is often a state of unfairness where people are treated no differently, except where such differences can be justified. It can also be used to justify unequal outcomes in relationships and education.
For example, an employer may believe that he has made a fair selection of applicants who would be best for a particular position. However, there could be some who are better qualified than others for the job because of their race, gender, or age. An equal opportunity employer therefore has the right to set reasonable quotas for each category. This does not mean that all employees in an office will be of the same caliber, but that each one will receive the same treatment when applying for a particular position. In this way, an employer displays a level of equality of opportunity at his workplace.
A disadvantage to a system of equal opportunity at work is when an employer fails to set equal opportunities in the workplace. The first scenario is the case where an employer fails to create a system of opportunities for applicants, which means that certain positions are just off the table for a specific reason, whether it be age gender, race, or rank. For instance, if an employer places positions in the workplace solely on merit, without considering the skills of the applicant, then he is in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. In this case, the employee is entitled to have his employment decisions considered according to his ability, instead of being based solely on what the employer thinks is fair.
Another problem with a system of equality of opportunity in the workplace is when employers take steps to prevent their employees from attaining some form of promotion or education. In this case, employers may discriminate against employees for reasons unrelated to their qualifications, such as age, disability, or race. Similarly, an employer who bases his decision on something only a candidate can know, such as pregnancy, should be avoided.
There are also problems with a system of equality of opportunity and equal opportunity in the workplace can arise when employers use different qualification standards, which leads to discrimination. The most well known example of this is pregnancy. An employer may decide to hire only women to perform particular jobs, such as lifting weights, and to deny promotion or a raise to male employees who have achieved similar results at a lower level. In order to remedy the situation, an employee should file a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. If the Commission finds merit, then the employer is required to modify his employment practices so that they comply with the guidelines.
Equal employment opportunity does not only apply to equal opportunities for promotion and advancement at the workplace; it also extends to equal treatment and opportunity when it comes to treatment by others. This includes treating customers and clients equally, hiring employees on the basis of their merits, and ensuring that the workplace creates an equal environment for all. While employers cannot legally discriminate against employees for reasons related to their race, gender, religion, national origin, age, or disability, they are morally obligated to treat everyone fairly. This can include taking positive action against discrimination, such as eliminating discriminatory actions and implementing policies to maintain a work environment free of bias, harassment, and other mistreatment.