The European Union set up a general framework for equal treatment in employment and occupation, empowering it to combat discrimination based on religion or belief, age, disability and sexual orientation on the labour market.
The scope and the enforceability vary from country to country, which is why Directive 2000/78/EC lays down general minimum rules in this area:
- conditions of access to employed or self-employed activities, including promotion;
- vocational training;
- employment and working conditions (including pay, dismissals, the making of reasonable changes at the workplace to allow disabled workers to work, ...);
- membership of and involvement in an organisation of employers or workers or any other organisation whose members carry on a particular profession.
This applies to both the public and private sector, as well as for all types of employment.
Apart from Directive 2000/78/EC the EU produced also other legislation to tackle the problem of discrimination.
Cases in which differences in treatment may be authorised
Under certain narrowly limited conditions:
- Genuine occupational differences
Different treatment is justified by the nature of the post or the conditions in which the job is performed.
- Differences in treatment on grounds of age
Different treatment is permissible when it is objectively and reasonably justified by a legitimate labour market aim and when it is appropriate and necessary to achieve that aim (such as the protection of young people and older workers, …).
- Positive action
Intended to prevent or compensate for existing inequalities.
Remedies and application of the law
The Directive includes a series of mechanisms to ensure effective remedies in the event of discrimination:
- Improvement of legal protection;
- Shifting the burden of proof;
- Protection of victims of discrimination against reprisals;
- Dissemination of adequate information on the Directive's provisions.
As the social partners have a crucial role to play in combating discrimination, Member States must take adequate measures to promote social dialogue between the two sides of industry.
The Directive is part of a series of measures aiming to combat discrimination.