Who is responsible and for what?
It is the duty of employers, including state and local government agencies, to prevent discrimination on the grounds prohibited by law already in the recruitment process, as well as when concluding an employment contract or a contract for provision of services and upon entry into service. Personal preferences can lead to costly recruitment errors and discrimination (intentional or unintentional), which can lead to legal problems that damage the reputation of the company/organisation.
Employers have the obligation to inform their employees of the employees’ rights as well as of employers’ obligations that are provided by law (§ 12 (2) of the Equal Treatment Act). The method of notification is up to the employer, the only criterion being the suitability of the notification method for the employees. Thus, among other things, account must be taken of the language skills of the employees and of some disabilities, and the accessibility of relevant information for persons with disabilities.
Employers have the responsibility to protect employees from discrimination that may occur by co-workers as well as customers or other target groups of the organisation. The law emphasizes the proactive nature of such protection – the implementation of necessary measures ((§ 12 (1) of the Equal Treatment Act). The nature of necessary measures and the way of application depend on each specific organisations and its situation. The necessary measures can be identified by analysing the previous situation and consulting employees or their representatives. Such proactive measures may include, for example, codes of conduct, non-discrimination rules set in the organisation’s internal rules, or rules for dealing with harassment, and/or possible disciplinary penalties.
Employers are natural or legal persons who
- allow work under an employment contract or a contract for the supply of services, and state and local government agencies (§ 4 (2) of the Equal Treatment Act)
- conduct recruitment process (e.g., interviews) with job applicants (§ 12 (1) of the Equal Treatment Act)
The promotion of equal treatment should be considered as part of managing the organisation and staff through data collection and processing, product and service development and public relations, in the selection and recruitment of staff, staff development, in the development of the organisation’s culture and identity.
Recommendations for employers in the recruitment process
- Decide on the basis of skills, knowledge and experience what the company needs to perform a specific task or position
- Prepare a “job description” and personal requirements for the skills and experience needed to fill the position
- Make sure that the job description does not exclude anyone’s application based on race, ethnic origin, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age or disability
- Adapt your requirements to encourage people with disabilities to apply
- Avoid verbal recruitment
- Consider various information measures (employment centres or labour market offices, national or local press, schools, colleges or universities, small format publications, internet)
- Assure that all applications from the community are welcome
- Do not impose age restrictions in job postings
- Talk with potential applicants informally, this may help engage people who might otherwise be concerned about their age, gender or any of their shortcomings
- Give individual feedback to candidates who were not selected
- Allow flexible working hours for your employees
It is the responsibility of the employers to analyse how their decisions on remuneration, other working conditions, training, career and promotions have affected, affect, or may affect employees belonging to more vulnerable groups. As the disadvantage of person(s) belonging to one or another group(s) may be caused by a practice or activity that is considered neutral and self-evident in the organisation, employers must review the basis and criteria for the remuneration of the work, the qualifications and other skill requirements for employees, the working conditions, in consultation with all the parties.
The aim is not only to identify deliberate discrimination on the part of someone on any prohibited grounds, but to make the climate of the whole organisation tolerant of differences. The grounds for discrimination differ in nature and each of them require countermeasures that are specific to their characteristics. Only together with representatives of minority groups can the situations be found where someone may be at a disadvantage. For example, in case of employees with some religious beliefs, it should be considered that they need other holidays, etc.
Creating a discrimination-free working environment can help companies avoid costs related to litigation, high labour turnover and absenteeism.
Employers are also responsible for ensuring that there is no harassment in the work environment. In addition to the same non-harassment and non-discrimination standards in force in all EU Member States, a framework agreement was concluded at EU level between the social partners and approved in 2008 by the EU Social Committee to combat harassment and violence in the working environment. It aims to reduce workplace harassment and violence, which can be physical, mental, sexual, either an isolated incident or a more systematic pattern of behaviour between colleagues, between managers and subordinates, clients, patients or students, ranging from minor acts that violate human dignity to criminal acts. The framework agreement sets out the principle on the basis of which cases of harassment and violence should be dealt with, including requirements for prompt response, confidentiality, hearing of parties and collection of necessary information, zero tolerance of false accusations, etc.
Employers, as well as employees themselves, play a major role in creating a working environment that does not condone any forms of harassment. It is therefore important to discuss the current taboo topic together and to agree on appropriate standards of conduct. In order for an employer to be able to fulfil their obligations, victims of harassment must know how and who to turn to and what formal and informal options can be applied to end harassment.
3.2. Educational and training institutions
According to the general prohibition of discrimination, educational and research institutions must fulfil all the obligations imposed on employers and ensure equal treatment of persons belonging to a minority group in vocational guidance, education, special and vocational training and retraining, as well as in other matters related to the organisation of studies.
The Equal Treatment Act has imposed an obligation on all educational and research institutions, training institutions and persons to keep in mind the objective of promoting the principle of equal treatment in determining the content of studies and the organisation of studies (§ 13 of the Equal Treatment Act).
Educational institutions are among the few where people’s knowledge, values, skills and behaviour can be consciously shaped. Therefore, it is important that the content of the subjects taught help to open up the nature and meaning of human rights, increase understanding of different cultures, and develop tolerance. The aim should be for children to learn at an early age to be friends with pupils from different ethnic or religious minority groups and to learn to respect each other.
Knowledge of people with disabilities should also be part of curricula. Accessible places of study and training must be provided for students with disabilities, with individual support and reasonable adaptation (including equipment) if necessary.
Equal treatment in education means not only equal access to education, but also equal participation and equal outcomes, at least within the scope of basic education. This cannot be achieved by treating all students equally and in an environment where bullying, harassment or other forms of discrimination are permitted. The principle of equal treatment is adopted in an environment where democratic values and people’s right to be different are recognised.
In order to comply with law, it is necessary to be aware of the problems of students with special needs as well as the situation of other minorities.
For example, in its 2000 recommendations to the Member States, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe defined guiding principles for the education policy of Roma children in Europe (Recommendation No R (2000) 4). It stated that schools should have curricula for Roma children and specially designed educational materials that take into account the Roma children’s different backgrounds and cultural identities. The aim of the educational materials is to introduce the history and culture of Roma to reflect their cultural identity. In Estonia, these recommendations have not yet been taken into account at national level.
Both educational and research institutions can contribute to promoting equal treatment by examining and identifying the problems and needs of disadvantaged minority groups and presenting the results of their research. New information that analyses society is needed for everyone to understand and make sense of their surroundings and to avoid discrimination, but also to develop positive measures to create equal opportunities for people who belong to minority groups.