Age-based discrimination: an underestimated reality
A company was prosecuted for rejecting a 59-year-old man's application because of his age.
If you are 45 years old or older, you are far more likely to be the victim of discrimination on the job market. For instance, a 59-year-old man's application was explicitly rejected because of his age. The labour tribunal of Ghent judged this to be a pure case of age-based discrimination. Unia welcomes the prosecution of a case that is symptomatic of a serious social and generally underestimated problem.
Following a report from a 59-year-old man, Unia decided to take the case to court after an attempt at conciliation. This man was an unlucky applicant in a recruitment procedure launched by a Belgian company. He was clearly told, in an e-mail, that his application was refused because of his age.
At court, the company argued that older employees had more difficulty mastering certain software programs; an argument that was thrown out by the court. The judge ruled that this was a case of age-based discrimination and ordered the company to pay EUR 1,000 for every new offence. Furthermore, the victim was awarded damages of EUR 25,000 – a judgement that will also have to be visibly displayed in the company.
According to Patrick Charlier, director of Unia, age-related discrimination is still underestimated. In 2015, Unia opened 80 files concerning age-based discrimination. More than half of the files (56 %) related to employment. It is especially the 45-55 (29 %) and 55-65 (20 %) age groups that are affected.
But this type of discrimination is much more frequent than these figures would lead us to believe. According to a study, one respondent out of three considers that age-based discrimination during recruitment is justified. And it is applicants/workers over the age of 45 who are the most often discriminated against[ii]. For Unia, this shows that age-related discrimination isn't taken seriously enough, and so it is even less reported, despite it being a real problem.
"Furthermore, we must all keep in mind that the aging population is a reality in Europe, and the number of people over 65 will double in the next 50 years[iii]. In Belgium, the over-45s group will increase by 20 % in the next 40 years[iv]. If this growing section of the population is facing a major risk of discrimination in the workplace, then we are confronted with a real social problem."
Unia also draws attention to the employment rate, which is only 44 % among the over-55s, compared with 78.5 % in the group of 25-54 year olds. [v]
Stereotypes play a major role in the low employment rate. "Older people are perceived as less flexible, not up-to-date with new technologies or suffering from health problems. This prejudice was quite rightly emphasised by the court and is also a signal to our society."
More employment discrimination cases reported to Unia in 2017
Last year Unia opened a total of 2,017 cases of situations where people felt they were the subject of discrimination. This represents a 6% increase over 2016 (1,907 cases). Instances of employment discrimination were the most frequently opened cases at Unia.
Court describes effects of cancer as disability for the first time
An employer should have made adaptations to enable a woman who was unable to work for a long time due to cancer to continue doing her job, according to a ruling by the Brussels Labour Court. This is the first time that a court has recognised the lasting effects of cancer as a disability. The judge ordered the employer to pay 12,500 euros in compensation to the employee for discrimination. Unia acted as intervener in the case.
Unia reacts to the report on discrimination by the Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA)
Out of all survey-respondents of North African and Turkish origin who experienced discrimination in the past year in Belgium, 20% said it had occurred on the job market, while the European average on this point is 12%. This figure was brought to Unia’s attention in the Second EU-MIDIS report by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA).
The Achbita case before the court again
‘The Achbita case must be retried. The Court of Cassation has overturned the previous ruling of the Antwerp labour court because it inadequately examined whether Ms Achbita’s dismissal was discriminatory,’ Unia says.