Anti-Discrimination Laws in Austria

1. Brief Description of Anti-Discrimination Laws

In Austrian legal history there have been special provisions for ethnic minorities (especially Croatians and Slovenians) and for handicapped people as well as the Prohibition Act criminalizing national socialist activities.

Presently, there are various antidiscrimination laws on a federal and also on a provincial level. The core of Austrian Antidiscrimination law can be found on a federal level in the Equal Treatment Act. It applies to discrimination in the field of private employment on the grounds of sex, sexual orientation, ethnic origin, religion and belief, and age. Moreover, it prohibits discrimination with respect to access to goods and services provided by private persons, companies and the federal state on the grounds of ethnic origin. The rights given to persons under this Act can be enforced at court. There is also the possibility free of charges and costs to ask for a – non binding – decision of the Equal Treatment Commission.

2. Extent of Protection

The Austrian Equal Treatment Act for the private sector forbids the following acts of discrimination:

In employment:

  • Unequal treatment of women and men,
  • Unequal treatment on the grounds of ethnic belonging, religion or belief, age and sexual orientation,

In the field of goods and services, education, social protection and social advantages:

  • Unequal treatment on the grounds of ethnic belonging

This act also requires that employers provide equal pay for equal work, and establishes a commission of ombudsmen to ensure compliance with the principle of equal treatment.

Affirmative action promotes equal opportunities for women and men by means of specific measures, e.g. policies aimed at the promotion of gender equality – through laws, statutory regulations, collective agreements, works agreements etc. – do not infringe the equal treatment principle, even if they appear to constitute unequal treatment.

The Equal Treatment Act protects employees against gender-based discrimination, irrespective of whether they are working full time, part time or holding marginal jobs. Apprentices, foreign-national employees or persons completing a trial period in an enterprise also enjoy protection under the Act.

The Equal Treatment Act also protects against discrimination in the run-up to employment, entitling persons to claim compensation if they are discriminated against in the course of the application procedure.

3. Protections Against Harassment

Persons who suffered disadvantages due to discrimination or harassment based on the grounds stated above are entitled to claim for compensation at court. In addition to the actual damage a compensation for the humiliation (immaterial compensation) can be asserted.

4. Employer’s Obligation to Provide Reasonable Accommodations

Discrimination on the ground of a disability is prohibited and is applicable to private and federal employment as well as all contracts and all legal relations governed by federal law.

Further special groups of employees are:

  • member of works council
  • protected parents
  • military/social service
  • apprentices

For nearly every group there is a specific act regarding special employees’ rights as well as obligations of the employer, e.g. for apprentices these provisions can be found in the vocational training act.

5. Remedies

Under the Equal Treatment Act, employers cannot be forced to enter into an employment contract with any specific individual.

The individual affected by discrimination can involve the Equal Treatment Commission, but may also take court action to enforce her/his claim for equal treatment.

Women and men, who are discriminated against or harassed at work, whether directly or indirectly, are entitled to be compensated for the damage from the employer and/or any other person responsible for such discrimination (e.g. private education facility, colleague, customer). If the court finds that the complainant has been discriminated against because of gender or marital status, she/he may lodge a claim for material compensation and compensation for the personal injury suffered.

If successful, claims of discrimination may entitle the plaintiff-employee to a compensatory financial award. These financial awards are generally fairly small. Therefore, in the interest of justice, courts can, in addition to ordering a financial award, order the employer to withdraw or amend their discriminatory policies.

For more information on these articles or any other issues involving labour and employment matters in Austria, please contact Gerlach Rechtsanwälte
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