Employment, Social Affairs & Inclusion

Tackling discrimination at work


You have a right to equal opportunities! Fair treatment is a basic right in the European Union. It is illegal to discriminate because of a person's sex, age, disability, ethnic or racial origin, religion, belief or sexual orientation.   

Equal treatment for women and men

Laws for equal rights between women and men have existed since the very early days of the European Community.  

Since the 1970s a total of 13 pieces of legislation have been adopted with the aim of ensuring that women and men get fair and equal treatment at work.  

These laws cover a range of areas including equal treatment when apply for a job, equal treatment at work, protection of pregnant workers and breastfeeding mothers, and rights to maternity leave and parental leave.  

Millions of women and men across Europe enjoy these rights every day – but few of them know that the European Union is behind these laws!  

Tackling other forms of discrimination at work

The laws on equal rights between women and man were joined by new EU legislation in 2000 that prohibit discrimination on other grounds. Under these new laws it is illegal to discriminate against someone because of their:  

  • Racial and ethnic origin
  • Religion and belief 
  • Disability
  • Sexual orientation
  • Age  

These five areas of discrimination, together with gender discrimination, are included in the Amsterdam Treaty of the European Union as areas where the EU can act to prevent discrimination.  

Of course discrimination can occur for other reasons, eg because a person is married or not, or because of their income level or because of where they live. Discrimination can also happen because of a mix of different reasons, eg because of someone's age and their sex (eg an older women might be particularly vulnerable to unfair treatment in the jobs market).    

The laws to protect people against discrimination because of their racial and ethnic origin (eg because they are black or Roma) cover not only employment but other areas of daily life where unfair treatment can occur, eg in schools, housing, health care or access to good and services, eg unfair treatment in shops, restaurants, hotels etc.  

All countries in the EU are obliged to take these equality rules on board. Countries joining the EU also have to comply with these rules. 

EU equal treatment legislation sets out minimum levels of protection that apply to everyone living and working in the European Union. Countries can go further and adopt even stronger legal measures.  

Getting help

For further information on your rights and obligations under EU equality legislation, as well as information on where you can go to in your country for advice and more information, see the related links on this page. 

Legislation is vital in the fight for equality but we know that we have to do more. This is why the European Union is supporting a range of measures to combat discrimination, from funding projects, to carrying out research to supporting awareness-raising and information campaigns.

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