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Discrimination at work – how is it treated in Romania?

Discrimination at work is a matter that continues to generate significant problems in the work environment and the professional development of people. In spite of all the actions that authorities take across the world, it is still a persistent phenomenon, and acts of discrimination or harassment at work happen in all countries and cultures.

Romanian authorities have also taken important steps during recent years towards finding the best solutions to mitigate this phenomenon. In this article, we explain how such work “incidents” are treated by the Romanian authorities, and how the concepts of discrimination at work are defined and penalized in Romanian law.

Concepts of discrimination at work in the Romanian law

In the Romanian law (i.e., Government Ordinance no. 137/2000) discrimination is defined as the act of: any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference, based on race, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, social status, beliefs, sex, sexual orientation, age, disability, chronic disease, HIV infection, membership in a disadvantaged category, and any other criterion having as its effect the restriction or removal of the acknowledgment, or use or exercise, on equal terms, of human rights and fundamental freedoms or of any rights recognized by law, in the political, economic, social and cultural field or in any other areas of public life.

In what regards the specific act of discrimination at work, the same Ordinance provides that it is considered a violation of law to discriminate against a person at work on the grounds that one belongs to a certain race, nationality, ethnicity, religion, social category or disadvantaged group, or because of their beliefs, age, sex or sexual orientation.

Thus, as per the Romanian law, the interdiction for acts of discrimination at work applies to any of the following circumstances:

  • signing, suspension, modification or termination of the employment agreement with the employee;
  • establishing or modifying any employment duties, the place of work or the salary;
  • granting of any social rights, other than the salary;
  • training, development, retraining or professional promotion;
  • application of disciplinary measures;
  • the right to join a trade union and access to any rights granted by it;
  • any other conditions for performing of work duties.

Similar provisions are mentioned in the Romanian Labor Code as well, in what regards the acts of discrimination in employment.

Therefore, any Romanian employer is obliged to provide equal opportunities to its employees, both when hiring and during the employment period. The rule applies also for employment of foreigners, no matter where they come from.

If for example a company has a Romanian employee and one from Sri Lanka, it must treat them equally, as per the rules described above. Otherwise, the company may have to bear significant fines which can be imposed by the Romanian authorities.

Specific concepts of discrimination in the workplace, as per Romanian labor law

In addition to the aspects described above, the Romanian Labor Code also expressly interdicts the following specific acts, which are as well considered acts of discrimination:

  • Harassment – the concept of harassment is expressly defined in the Romanian Labor Code as being: any type of behavior based on one of the criteria mentioned above, that has as its purpose or effect the damage to a person’s dignity and leads to the creation of an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.
  • Discrimination by association – this concept was introduced in the Labor Code last year, and is defined as: any act of discrimination committed against a person who, although not part of a category of persons identified according to the criteria described above, is associated or presumed to be associated with one or more persons belonging to such a category of persons.
  • Victimization – the act of victimization is defined by law as: any adverse treatment, coming in response to a complaint or legal action for violation of the principle of equal treatment and non-discrimination.

Discrimination is also considered to be the act of delegating to a person the use of a form of discrimination against one or more persons.

How do the Romanian authorities penalize in practice all acts of discrimination in employment described above?

The acts of discrimination in the workplace are also harshly penalized by the Romanian authorities in practice. Thus, the Labor Code provides for a fine that can be applied by authorities, and which is between 1,000 and 20,000 lei for each act of discrimination, which includes also any discriminatory dismissal of an employee.

However, the method of setting this fine was questioned by labor specialists, as the minimum amount is extremely low compared to the maximum, and the offender (i.e., the company) has the possibility to pay half of the amount in 15 days. More precisely, no matter how easy or serious the discrimination situation is, so as to justify a higher fine (applied closer to the legal maximum), the offender will always be able to pay only between 500 and 10,000 lei.

A higher fine, for discrimination against a community or a group of persons, is applied by the Ordinance no. 137/2000 on the prevention and sanctioning of all forms of discrimination. According to this Ordinance, when the discrimination is applied upon a community or a group of persons, the authorities can apply a fine between 2,000 – 100,000 lei.

However, in practice, the consequences do not always resume only to the fines applied by authorities. For example, in the case of a discriminatory dismissal of an employee, one of the consequences can also be that the company will be imposed to rehire the employee and pay him/her all the monthly salaries that he or she was entitled to as of the moment of dismissal.

Also, in the case of a wage discrimination, the employee will be entitled to receive the difference in salary that he/she was denied.

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