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What is Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO)? – Definition and Examples

Equal Employment Opportunity

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Key Takeaways

1. Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) means legal rules designed to prevent discrimination and unfair treatment in hiring and managing employees. 

2. EEO legislation in the United States prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, gender, national origin, pregnancy status, age or disability. 

3. EEO should be implemented in all businesses recruitment practices to ensure full legal compliance and to attract the best employees. 

4. An international employment partner, such as a Global PEO, can help ensure EEO compliance across international borders. 

Most countries around the world have laws and rules requiring organizations to treat employees and potential employees fairly and without discrimination. In other words, respect in the workplace is enforced by law. This is commonly described as providing ‘equal employment opportunity’ (‘EEO’).  In this article, we look at how EEO is defined within the law and what this means for international recruitment and human resource management.

Note, this is intended as general information. For legal advice related to your specific situation, you should seek out professional assistance.

What does EEO stand for in Human Resource Management?

The concept of ‘Equal Employment Opportunity’ (sometimes called ‘Equal Employment Opportunities‘ or ‘EEO’) is about giving everyone a fair chance both in applying for a job, and in their treatment once in the job. In a 2018 Gallup poll, 61 percent of Americans supported EEO policies

EEO is captured in laws in different countries in slightly different ways. In the United States, the primary legislation for protecting EEO is Title VII of the Civil Rights Act 1964. This prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, gender and national origin.

It also prohibits discrimination based on association with another individual with those characteristics.

It applies to employers who have more than 15 employees for each working day in more than 20 calendar weeks in the current or preceding year. The Civil Rights Act 1964 has been supplemented with other legislation that prohibits discrimination in the US, including, on the basis of:

  • Pregnancy (see Pregnancy Discrimination Act 1978)
  • Age (See Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967) and,
  • Disability (see Americans with Disabilities Act 1990).

Collectively, we might refer to these EEO characteristics listed in legislation as ‘protected characteristics’.

Note that there are a range of exceptions to the application of EEO laws and regulations in the United States. In addition to organizational size limits, there are exceptions pertaining to the federal government, federally-recognized Native American groups, religious groups, and non-profit private membership organizations.  Furthermore, the law recognizes a concept of ‘affirmative action’ or ‘positive discrimination’, which seeks to increase the likelihood of employees of historically disadvantaged groups being hired and retained.

Examples of Equal Employment Opportunity in Recruitment

The United States EEO Commission sets out some useful best practice advice for EEO in recruitment and human resource management.  As a company following these steps, you should:

  • Attempt to diversify the pool of candidates. You can read more about recruiting and managing a diverse workforce at Five Tips for Recruiting a Diverse Workforce
  • Self-monitor by looking at whether the company’s own practices disadvantage people due to protected characteristics, or leave prior problems uncorrected
  • Structure job descriptions so that they are ‘neutral’ across protected characteristics, and ensure that the standards are consistently applied when evaluating candidates
  • Make sure that selection criteria don’t, as far as possible, disadvantage certain groups
  • Make sure that any agents or contractors acting on behalf of the company, do not discriminate.
  • To read more about how EEO and inclusive recruitment can be used to attract the best employees to your workplace check out Five Powerful Strategies to Attract the Best Employees.

Examples of EEO Compliance in the Workplace

EEO practices aren’t just relevant for recruitment, they need to be applied to the employment relationship itself. Recommended actions for human resources include:

  • Monitoring remuneration packages to ensure that unjustified discrimination is not occurring;
  • Application of performance reviews fairly to ensure that no unjustified discrimination is occurring and that any benefits are being applied equally;
  • Ensuring that training programs are available for staff in an attempt to ‘even the playing field’;
  • Ensuring that remote working arrangements do not obscure any workplace discrimination or unfair treatment. Spain has a remote working law specifically empowered to deal with this issue;
  • Protecting complainants from possible retaliation. Processes need to be in place to ensure that those who complain of unjustified discrimination or harassment are protected.

Eliminating Harassment In the Workplace

In addition to EEO measures that should be taken by the company to protect their potential recruits and workforce, it is important to also have policies in place to prevent harassment in the workplace on the basis of protected characteristics, or any other factors. This is both about following legal requirements, as well as ensuring your staff are satisfied and engaged in their workplace. An anti-harassment policy should include:

  • An explanation of which specific conduct is prohibited, giving examples of prohibited behaviour
  • Assurance that there will be no retaliation against complainants
  • A thorough and robust complaint assessment process
  • Assurance that all complaints will be dealt with in confidentiality
  • Assurance that immediate action will be taken if harassment has been determined to occur.

Equal Employment Opportunity and International Differences

The best practice examples listed above related to US laws on EEO. Note, however, that while EEO is common across the world, it often takes on a different form in different countries. One area of substantial difference is in cases of ‘affirmative action’ or ‘positive discrimination’ laws and rules. Examples include:

  • In India (which arguably has the oldest EEO law), there is a preference recognized in public employment, through article 16 of the Constitution, for members of under-privileged caste groups to be hired;
  • In Malaysia, article 153 of the Federal Constitution requires a reservation of quotas for “Malays and natives of any of the States of Sabah and Sarawak”.

Equal Employment Opportunity and Overseas Expansion

When establishing your business in an overseas market, you will need to make sure that your enterprise complies with the EEO laws and regulations that apply in that new market. As is clear from the discussion so far, these laws are complex and can be significantly different in other jurisdictions: For example, a US enterprise cannot simply expand into a new country and apply the EEO rules that apply in the United States.

To find out how equal opportunity works in other prime expansion locations, check out our Canada anti-discrimination guide and our UK equality law primer

Equal Employment Opportunity and International Recruiters

A specialist international recruiter, hired to work for your company, will develop a recruitment strategy in a target country and ensure that the process is entirely compliant with local EEO laws. This includes:

  • Ensuring that job descriptions do not contravene EEO requirements
  • Ensuring that recruit evaluation processes are compliant
  • Making sure that any prioritized groups are accounted for in the process.

Four Ways a Global PEO Can Help With Equal Employment Opportunity

When expanding into a new overseas market, it is often advisable to engage a Global Professional Employer Organization (‘PEO’) to engage employees on your behalf. This can be a quicker and more cost-efficient mechanism for expansion than setting up your own legal entity (such as a subsidiary), in the targeted country.

One key advantage of engaging a PEO is that you do not need to have full knowledge of the compliance and cultural environment of the country that you are expanding into. The PEO ensures full global compliance. By engaging a PEO they can ensure that:

  • Compensation packages are benchmarked against EEO rules and standard practice in that target country;
  • Employee performance evaluation meet the required standards;
  • Hiring and performance statistics are regularly reviewed to ensure overall compliance;
  • A robust complaints process is in place to protect employees who complain of discrimination or harassment from retaliation.


It is crucial that, in an international expansion, all enterprises pay attention to EEO compliance in the countries they are expanding into. While there are general principles that remain similar internationally, there are also regional differences.

Horizons is an Equal Opportunity Employer (read more here) In supporting recruitment, and when acting as a PEO, it ensures that all employment decisions are based on the needs of the business, job requirements and the individual’s qualifications, without regard to race, color, religion or beliefs, national or ethnic origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity/expression, relationship or marital status, or any other characteristic protected by law in the countries in which they operate. Horizons will not allow discrimination or harassment based on any of these characteristics.

Frequently asked questions

Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) means the right not to be discriminate against based on ‘protected characteristics’ outlined in the law. These protected characteristics includes (among other things), race, disability status and gender.

An example of Equal Employment Opportunity is benchmarking salaries across an organization to ensure there is no discrimination against female employees.

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