EU Employers Must Treat All Disabled Workers Equally, Court Rules

The EU’s high court sided with a Polish psychologist who objected to a monthly allowance paid to other disabled workers but not to her.

The European Court of Justice in Luxembourg. (Courthouse News photo/Molly Quell)

LUXEMBOURG (CN) — EU labor laws protect disabled workers from being treated differently than both nondisabled co-workers and others with disabilities, the union’s highest court ruled Tuesday. 

The Court of Justice of the European Union found that a Polish psychologist faced discrimination based on her disability when disabled colleagues were granted an extra monthly allowance but she was not. 

“The principle of equal treatment enshrined in Directive 2000/78 is intended to protect a worker who has a disability, for the purposes of that directive, against any discrimination on the basis of that disability, not only as compared with workers who do not have disabilities, but also as compared with other workers who have disabilities,” the 13-judge panel wrote. 

The woman identified in court documents as V.L. worked at a psychiatric hospital in Kraków until a disability forced her to stop in 2011. Two years later, the hospital decided to give a monthly allowance to its disabled employees, on top of their salaries, of 250 Polish złoty ($75), with the aim of reducing the hospital’s mandatory contribution to the National Fund for the Rehabilitation of Handicapped People. 

The additional allowance only applied to employees who had become disabled since 2013, leaving V.L and 15 others ineligible for the bonus. She sued the hospital but her case was dismissed by the lower court, which found there was no indication of discrimination based on disability. 

On appeal, the Kraków Regional Court referred the matter to the Luxembourg-based Court of Justice to weigh in on V.L.’s claims. Under EU labor law, workers cannot be discriminated against on the basis of disability, sexual orientation, religion or age. 

At a hearing before the bloc’s high court last year, Poland argued that EU law protects disabled workers from discrimination as compared to their nondisabled peers, not as compared to other disabled workers. The European Commission, the EU’s executive body, called this argument “illogical, absurd and inexplicable” in its oral presentations. 

The court disagreed with Poland on Tuesday.

“Where an employer treats a worker less favourably than another of his or her workers is, has been or would be treated in a comparable situation and where it is established, having regard to all the relevant circumstances of the case, that that unfavourable treatment is based on the former worker’s disability, inasmuch as it is based on a criterion which is inextricably linked to that disability, such treatment is contrary to the prohibition of direct discrimination,” the ruling states.  

The Court of Justice left it up to the Polish court to determine whether a difference in the date an employee filed their disability paperwork created a difference in treatment between disabled workers.   

“It will be for that court to investigate whether, by having made receipt of the allowance conditional upon submitting the disability certificate after a date chosen by the employer, the practice introduced by the hospital at issue in the main proceedings had the effect of putting certain workers with disabilities at a disadvantage because of the particular nature of their disabilities, including the fact that such disabilities were visible or required reasonable adjustments to be made, such as adapted workstations or working hours,” the court wrote. 

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