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Cases in the Area of Equal Treatment irrespective of Ethnicity, Religion or Belief, Age or Sexual Orientation in Employment and Occupation

Most cases brought before the Ombuds Office for Equal Treatment deal with discrimination on grounds of ethnicity and of age, followed by grounds of religion and sexual orientation. The principle of equal treatment is violated most frequently when employment relationships are established and terminated. Harassment at work is also a very common problem.

Example 1: Dismissal after harassment on grounds of ethnicity

A man of African origin worked as a dishwasher in a renowned enterprise of the restaurant sector for 16 years. After the enterprise was taken over by a new owner, several unpleasant incidents occurred. The man had the impression that they were provoked to make him quit his job, which would also entail a loss of his entitlement to severance pay. The boss instructed for example a colleague of the man not to carry out a specific task himself but “to tell the negro to do it”. In the counselling meeting, the Ombud offered the man to send a letter of intervention to the employer, pointing out that harassment on grounds of ethnicity was inadmissible. Before the letter could be sent to the employer, the man was dismissed by the employer. The man decided to assert possible claims under labour law with the support of the Chamber of Labour and not to pursue his complaint about harassment any further.

Example 2: Discrimination in the context of salary classification due to older age

A 56-year-old woman contacted the Ombuds Office for Equal Treatment as she felt discriminated against on grounds of her age by her employer due to job classification. With the support of her immediate supervisor, she had requested the department of personnel to promote her to a higher pay grade level some time ago because her predecessor had also been ranked in the higher pay grade. Her request was denied, explaining that she was not entitled to it and that the enterprise adhered to the principle of not reclassifying the jobs of employees “close to retirement”. The Ombuds Office for Equal Treatment then submitted a request to the Equal Treatment Commission to initiate proceedings in order to examine whether the principle of equal treatment had been violated on grounds of age with regard to salary classification, career advancement or other working conditions. The ITC came to the conclusion that the woman had been discriminated against on the grounds of age and strongly suggested to reclassify the woman’s job.

Example 3: Discrimination in access to employment on grounds of religion

A woman of Turkish origin contacted the Ombuds Office for Equal Treatment after applying for the post of a cleaner in a private hospital with the foreman of a cleaning company. He informed her that the private hospital did not accept women wearing a headscarf as cleaners on their premises. As wearing a headscarf is an essential element of her faith, it was impossible for the woman to take on the job. The Ombuds Office for Equal Treatment therefore requested the cleaning company to provide its comments on this, pointing out that this was inadmissible discrimination on grounds of religion. The company then contacted the Ombuds Office for Equal Treatment and offered a different post to the woman, who had, however, found another job.

Example 4: Harassment in vocational training on grounds of sexual orientation

Two men contacted the Ombuds Office for Equal Treatment, seeking advice and support. Both of them participated in a qualification programme of a personnel leasing agency contracted by the Public Employment Service. They complained inter alia that they felt discriminated against on grounds of their sexual orientation due to various statements made by the employees of the agency. A female trainer had for example answered the question of one of the men affected why he could not find a job despite his exemplary application documents by remarking: “I can tell you why!….Because you can only work for a man who loves men.“ On behalf of the two men, the Ombuds Office for Equal Treatment submitted a request to the Equal Treatment Commission to examine whether discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation occurred in this case.