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Summaries of EU Legislation

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Gender equality in the labour market

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Gender equality in the labour market

The objective of this Directive is to consolidate several directives on gender equality by simplifying, modernising and improving EU legislation in the area of equal treatment for men and women in employment.


Equality between men and women is a fundamental principle of EU law which applies to all aspects of life in society, including to the world of work.

Equality in employment and working conditions

This Directive prohibits direct* or indirect discrimination* between men and women concerning the conditions of:

  • recruitment, access to employment and self-employment;
  • dismissals;
  • vocational training and promotion;
  • membership of workers’ or employers’ organisations.

In addition, Article 157 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU prohibits discrimination on grounds of sex on matters of pay for the same work or work of equal value. This principle also applies to job classification systems used for determining pay.

However, different treatment for men and women may be justified by reason of the nature of the particular occupational activity, if the measures taken are legitimate and proportionate.

EU countries must encourage employers and vocational trainers to act against discrimination (both direct and indirect) on grounds of sex, and particularly against harassment* and sexual harassment*.

Equality in social protection

Women and men are treated equally under occupational social security schemes, particularly concerning:

  • the scope and conditions of access to the schemes;
  • the contributions;
  • the calculation of benefits, including supplementary benefits, and the conditions governing the duration and retention of entitlement.

This principle applies to the whole working population, including:

  • self-employed workers, however for this category EU countries may provide for different treatment, in particular concerning the age of retirement;
  • workers whose activity is interrupted by illness, maternity, accident or involuntary unemployment;
  • persons seeking employment, retired and disabled workers, and those claiming under them.

Maternal, paternal and adoption leave

At the end of maternal, paternal or adoption leave, employees have the right to:

  • return to their jobs or to equivalent posts on conditions which are no less favourable to them;
  • benefit from any improvement in working conditions to which they would have been entitled during their absence.

Defence of rights

EU countries must put in place remedies for employees who have been victims of discrimination, such as conciliation and judicial procedures. In addition, they shall take the necessary measures to protect employees and their representatives against adverse treatment as a reaction to a complaint within the company or to any legal proceedings.

Lastly, they shall establish penalties and reparation or compensation possibilities in relation to the damage sustained.

In the case of legal proceedings, the burden of proof is on the party accused of discrimination who must prove that there has been no breach of the principle of equal treatment.

Promoting equal treatment

EU countries appoint bodies whose role it is to promote, analyse and monitor equal treatment, to ensure that the legislation is followed and also to provide independent support to victims of discrimination.

In addition, enterprises must promote the principle of gender equality and strengthen the role of social partners and non-governmental organisations.



* Direct discrimination: where one person is treated less favourably on grounds of sex than another is, has been or would be treated in a comparable situation.

* Indirect discrimination: where an apparently neutral provision, criterion or practice would put persons of one sex at a particular disadvantage compared with persons of the other sex, unless that provision, criterion or practice is objectively justified by a legitimate aim, and the means of achieving that aim are appropriate and necessary.

* Harassment: where unwanted conduct related to the sex of a person occurs with the purpose or effect of violating the dignity of a person, and of creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.

* Sexual harassment: where any form of unwanted verbal, non-verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature occurs, with the purpose or effect of violating the dignity of a person, in particular when creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.


Directive 2006/54/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 5 July 2006 on the implementation of the principle of equal opportunities and equal treatment of men and women in matters of employment and occupation (recast) (OJ L 204, 26.7.2006, pp. 23–36)

last update 29.10.2015