The publication you are currently reading is the third updated version of “The Handbook on the Equal Treatment Act”. The first version was published in 2010, being the first such handbook on the Equal Treatment Act. There have been a number of changes over the last twelve years that are worth reporting on. The case law in the field has also developed significantly, and both the work of the Equal Treatment Commissioner and the Labour Dispute Committee have contributed to the progress in this field. Organisations on the civil society side of things that have kept an eye on the equal treatment topics and drawn attention to the shortcomings are the Estonian Human Rights Centre in cooperation with the Equal Treatment Network which, in addition to the Centre includes the Estonian LGBT Association, the Estonian National Youth Council, the Estonian Chamber of Disabled People, the Estonian Vegan Society, the Estonian Union for Child Welfare, NGO Oma Tuba, Federation of Estonian Student Unions, the Estonian Refugee Council, the Estonian Women’s Support and Information Centre and the URALIC Centre.

The aim of the handbook has not changed – to provide a primary overview of the topic of equal treatment and non-discrimination of persons and related laws in Estonia. Even though these concepts were introduced into the Estonian legal system in 1992 by the Constitution of the Republic of Estonia, the first special law prohibiting discrimination did not come about until 2004, when the Gender Equality Act entered into force. The Equal Treatment Act was also passed in 2008, extending the prohibition of discrimination to other grounds: nationality (ethnicity), race, colour, religion or belief, age, disability and sexual orientation.

At the same time, for more than ten years the NGOs, various institutions and international organisations have been drawing attention to the hierarchy of protection of rights contained in the Equal Treatment Act, but so far, despite several plans to do so, the law has not been amended. In particular, the current Equal Treatment Act does not comply with the general principle of equality laid down in paragraph 12 of the Constitution, since its scope of application is not uniform to all minorities. Discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief, age, disability or sexual orientation is prohibited only in matters related to employment and obtaining vocational training. The prohibition of discrimination on the grounds of nationality (ethnicity), race or colour is more extensive, and unequal treatment is also prohibited in the areas of social welfare, health and social security services and benefits, education and access to goods and services provided to the public (including housing). We hope that at one point this distinction at the level of the law will disappear and that the authors will have a reason to update the handbook again.

The publication is intended for a broad readership who, for one reason or another, have contact with the Equal Treatment Act in their work, or who for some other reason is interested in the field. The handbook is also suitable for both training preparation and independent study. It has been drawn up in an attempt to decipher the issue of equal treatment and non-discrimination as simply and comprehensibly as possible, while also providing information on the general social context in which these principles must operate.

The handbook does not address in greater depth the issues of gender discrimination and gender equality, which are different in nature and scope and go far beyond the protection of persons belonging to minority groups covered by the Equal Treatment Act. Also, several publications have already been issued on the Gender Equality Act.[1]

The handbook consists of five chapters, the first of which provides an overview of the basic concepts of ‘equality’ and ‘equal treatment’ and the related concepts; the second chapter delves into the concept of discrimination; the third chapter explains the obligations and responsibilities of the various actors involved; the fourth chapter explains how to act in case of a suspected discrimination and how to document the circumstances of the discrimination and who and to what extent is subject to the burden of proof; the fifth chapter provides tips on how a person and/or a representative of an advocacy organisation must proceed when a suspicion of a less favourable treatment has arisen and what must an organisation do that is being suspected of discrimination.

The greatest value of the third version of the handbook is complementing the previous versions with numerous practical examples and summaries of court cases. We, therefore, hope that the handbook is of help to all people in Estonia – the employees and their representatives, NGOs, officials and employers, local governments, heads of educational institutions and teachers who have to follow the norms of equal treatment. This handbook in the field of human rights could also be additional material for lawyers and law students, guiding them not only to the provisions of law but also to its implementation in courtrooms.


The Estonian Human Rights Centre

May 2022, Tallinn

[1] Nt. Albi, K., Laidvee, J., Papp, Ü.-M. ja Sepper, M.-L. (2010) „Soolise võrdõiguslikkuse seadus. Kommenteeritud väljaanne“. Juura, Tallinn.