Employment, Social Affairs & Inclusion

How to enforce your rights

Who can help you enforce your rights?

If you believe that you have been discriminated against, you can bring your case to the competent national authorities. You can also seek help and advice on how to enforce the law from organisations like trade unions, NGOs, your lawyer and national equality bodies.

National equality bodies are required in all Member States, and are particularly aimed at addressing sex and race discrimination. They provide independent assistance to victims of discrimination, they monitor discrimination issues, and they promote equality. Most national equality bodies also cover non-discrimination based on religion or belief, disability, age and sexual orientation under national law. In many cases they also cover nationality, language or political opinion.

Some national equality bodies may simply provide you with useful information regarding your situation, while others can help you make a complaint. They may even, with your approval, take your case to the competent courts.

How can you challenge discrimination at work?

What should you do if you believe that you have been a victim of discrimination?

  • You should collect any evidence needed to support your claim, like letters, e-mails and other documents.
  • You need to show that you were treated unequally and that it was because of your sex, age, disability, sexual orientation, religion or belief, or racial or ethnic origin.
  • It is then for the employer to prove that there has been no breach of the principle of equal treatment because his/her decision was based on other legitimate reasons.  
  • You can complain to the European Commission if you think legislation in your Member State is not compatible with EU law. However, the Commission cannot intervene in individual cases.

What happens when you lodge a complaint before national courts?

  • You can pursue discrimination cases through criminal, civil or administrative proceedings, depending on Member State laws.
  • A negotiated solution is sometimes possible between you and your employer via Member State mediation agents. This is usually quicker and less costly.
  • After you present evidence of discrimination, employers facing complaints have to show there was no discrimination based on the prohibited grounds. The EU non-discrimination Directives shift the burden of proof, making it easier for victims of discrimination to lodge complaints.
  • If the claim goes to court, legal aid and advice may be available from equality bodies, trade unions, NGOs or lawyers.
  • If the national court needs guidance on the interpretation of the EU non-discrimination Directives, it may refer to the European Court of Justice preliminary questions.

What happens if your complaint succeeds?

  • While EU law does not state what remedies are available, it says that effective, proportionate and dissuasive penalties are needed.
  • Depending on the national legislation, you may be entitled to compensation, reinstatement in a job, or an order requiring the employer to remedy the discrimination and provide reasonable accommodation.

Equality bodies in the EU

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