New rules approved on equal treatment and discrimination

Download article in original language : PL0311103NPL.DOC

In October 2003, the lower house of the Polish parliament approved a set of amendments to the Labour Code, which include a number of new provisions , in line with EU law, aimed at ensuring equal treatment and preventing discrimination at work. A notable change is the recognition of the issue of sexual harassment, which is defined, made illegal and expressly prohibited.

A new round of amendments to the Polish Labour Code was approved by the lower house of parliament (Sejm) on 14 October 2003 (PL0212108F) and passed on to the Senate (Senat) for consideration. The principal objective of these latest amendments, apart from the deletion of provisions found to be irregular on constitutional grounds, is to adapt Polish labour law further to European Union norms prior to accession in May 2004. As well as tackling sex discrimination issues - as outlined below - the new changes to the Labour Code cover matters such as medical leave, the maximum number of consecutive fixed-term contracts which can be concluded with a single employee, working time (including regulations governing overtime), annual leave, bullying ('mobbing'), and occupational health and safety.

With regard to equal treatment and anti-discrimination in employment, the new provisions added to the Labour Code in October refer to a number of recent EU laws in this area, and particularly: Directive 2000/78/EC establishing a general framework for equal treatment in employment and occupation, which covers the grounds of religion or belief, disability, age and sexual orientation (EU0102295F); and Directive 2002/73/EC amending Directive 76/207/EEC on equal treatment for men and women as regards access to employment, vocational training and promotion, and working conditions (EU0205201N), which (among other changes) added the issue of sexual harassment to the 1976 Directive.

Following the successful passage of this legislative initiative, Chapter IIa of the Labour Code, entitled 'Equal treatment of women and men' (Articles 183a to 183e) – which came into force in early 2002 (PL0211105F) – will be revised and made more detailed. Its provisions on ensuring equal status in employment and proscribing direct as well as indirect discrimination will be expanded to cover explicitly discrimination based on gender, age, disability, race, nationality, beliefs (particularly political and religious), union membership, ethnic origin, sexual preferences or the nature of the employment relationship (fixed term or indefinite, full or part time). Chapter IIa will also be supplemented with definitions of 'harassment' and 'sexual harassment', with the latter explicitly classified as sex-based discrimination and clearly forbidden. Regulations to tackle sexual harassment in the workplace have long been demanded in Poland, notably by women’s groups.

Under the new regulations, '(1) behaviour comprising incitement/encouragement of another person to violate the principle of equal treatment in employment; [and] (2) behaviour whose objective or effect comprises transgression against the dignity, or insult or humiliation, of an employee (harassment)' (translation of the draft passed to the Senate by the Sejm) will be proscribed as illegal behaviour viewed as discrimination (Article 183a entry 5). 'Sexual harassment' is particularly targeted by the new rules, as laid down in Article 183a entry 6: 'Discrimination in reference to gender shall also comprise all unaccepted behaviour of a sexual character or behaviour referring to the gender of the employee whose objective or effect comprises transgression against the dignity, or insult or humiliation, of an employee; such behaviour may comprise physical, verbal, or non-verbal elements (sexual harassment)'.

Other amendments to the Labour Code (Article 94 item 2b) compel employers to eliminate from the work environment any and all manifestations of discrimination, obliging them to 'strive to make the workplace an environment free of employment discrimination, especially as regards gender, age, disability, racial or ethnic origin, religion, denomination or sexual orientation'.

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