July 1, 2022

Equal Treatment at Work

At European and international level, the institutional framework of the principle of equal treatment and non-discrimination is highlighted BOTH in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU, the European Social Charter and in UN texts and conventions of the International Labour Organization.

Up to 2000, EU anti-discrimination legislation was applied only in the area of employment and social security, and covered only discrimination on the grounds of gender.

Two directives were adopted in 2000:

  • the Employment Equality Directive, which prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, religious beliefs, age and disability in employment (78/2000/EC) and
  • the Race Equality Directive, which prohibited discrimination on the grounds of race or ethnic origin in employment , the welfare system and social security access as well as in access to goods and services (43/2000/EC).

The above directives were transposed into Greek law by Law 3305/2005. The above law was replaced by Law 4443/2016 (Government Gazette, Series I, No 232), which improved and strengthened the legislative framework for the implementation of equal treatment and non-discrimination at work and in employment in general.

Law 4443/2016 (Government Gazette, Series I, No 232) prohibits discrimination on the grounds of race, colour, national or ethnic origin, genealogical descent, religion or other belief, disability or chronic condition, age, social status, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender characteristics in the field of work and employment.

This prohibition applies to all persons, in the public and private sector, and covers:

(a) the terms of access to work and employment, including selection criteria and recruitment terms, and the terms of official and professional advancement;

(b) access to all types and to all levels of vocational guidance, apprenticeship, vocational training, retraining and vocational reorientation, including acquisition of practical work experience;

(c) the terms and conditions of work and employment, in particular as regards remuneration, dismissal, health and safety at work and in the event of unemployment, rehabilitation and re-employment;

(d) membership status, and participation in a trade union of workers or employers or in any professional organisation, including the advantages and obligations arising from participation in them, and in particular the right to vote and to stand as a candidate.

In addition, discrimination on the grounds of race, colour, national or ethnic origin, genealogical descent, in both the public and private sectors, is prohibited in respect of:

(a) social protection, including social security and healthcare;
(b) social benefits and tax concessions or advantages;
(c) education;
(d) access to the supply and provision of goods and services made available to the public, including housing.

The rule is that the different treatment at work on the grounds of race, national or ethnic origin, genealogical descent, religion or other belief, disability or chronic condition, age, social status, sexual orientation, gender identity or characteristics, is prohibited. Nevertheless, there are some exceptions where the legislator has deemed it necessary for important reasons.

Thus, the different treatment does not constitute inadmissible discrimination, when due to the nature or context of the professional activities it constitutes an essential and fundamental professional prerequisite, and provided that the objective in question is legitimate and the condition is proportional.

Furthermore, a different treatment based on a person’s religious or other beliefs does not constitute discrimination where, due to the nature of the activities in question or the context in which they are carried out, they constitute an essential, legitimate and justified occupational requirement.

Also, a specifically justified different treatment due to age does not constitute discrimination, provided that this treatment is provided for in the law to serve the purposes of the employment policy, the labour market and vocational training, and the means of achieving those purposes are appropriate and necessary.

It should be noted that the introduction of an age limit as a condition for access to work – including selection criteria and conditions for access – can only be made under specific conditions and provided a specific justification is given. Differences of treatment on grounds of age can only be justified where the following conditions are met: (a) it serves to achieve a legitimate objective; (b) it is reasonable and necessary; (c) it constitutes an essential and fundamental prerequisite by reason of the nature of the professional activities concerned or the context in which they are carried out.

There are also exemptions in cases where a specifically justified different treatment is provided for due to nationality.

There is direct discrimination, when:

  • a person receives unfavourable treatment
  • compared to that received or to the one that would have been received by another person in a similar situation
  • due to some particular characteristic of that person, which is however protected (protected characteristic).

There is indirect discrimination, when:

  • a provision, criterion or practice of a neutral nature
  • affects a group identified by a ‘protected characteristic’ in a far more negative manner
  • than other persons in a similar situation

Harassment is deemed to be discrimination when:

  • unwanted conduct in relation to a protected characteristic occurs
  • with the purpose or effect of violating the dignity of a person
  • and of creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.

Also, the denial of reasonable accommodation for persons with a disability or chronic condition is deemed to be discrimination.

In compliance with the principle of equal treatment in the sector of work and employment of persons with a disability or chronic condition, employers are obliged to take all appropriate measures, depending on the circumstances, so that such persons have the opportunity to access a job, perform it and progress, as well as the opportunity to take part in vocational training, provided such measures do not place a disproportionate burden on the employer. The burden is not considered disproportionate when offset adequately by protective measures which are taken within the framework of implementing the policy in favour of persons with a disability or chronic condition.

The law does not provide a list with potential reasonable accommodation, since they are limitless and depend on each individual case.

According to the annual report of the Ombudsman, reports against discrimination submitted to it by workers with a disability, relate mostly to requests for taking measures of reasonable accommodation, for example transfers, reduction of working hours or change of duties.

Law 4443/2016 includes in chapter C (Articles 8-11) provisions relating to the protection of the categories included in the law, among which are persons with a disability. These measures relate to the possibility for administrative appeals, in addition to recourse to a court (Article 8), the reversal of the burden of proof in the case of recourse to a court or administrative authority (Article 9), protection against countermeasures (Article 10) and the penalties provided for against the employer where a breach of the principle of equal treatment has been established (Article 11).

Private-sector workers affected may address the locally competent Labour Relations Inspection Department of the Labour Inspectorate – SEPE. The violation of the provisions on discriminatory treatment constitutes a violation of labour law for which the Labour Inspectorate may enforce penalties.

Complaints can be filed with the Labour Inspectorate on telephone number 15512 (working days, 9.00-15.00) and online on the portal https://www.sepenet.gr/liferayportal/archike.

Also, both private sector and public sector employees can submit a report to the Greek Ombudsman (https://www.synigoros.gr/) which is the body responsible for promoting the principle of equal treatment.

Finally, the responsibility for monitoring implementation of equal treatment policies in the field of work and employment, and for providing information to the public, especially to workers and employers with regard to the equal treatment principle, lies with the Unit for the Support of Greeks Working Abroad, Foreigners working in Greece and Equal Treatment in Work of the Directorate of Individual Arrangements of the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs. You can contact the above service at 2131516540 / 025 / 080 and at thstathopoulou@ypakp.gr, margiri@ypakp.gr, mbitha@ypakp.gr.

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