LGBTI equality and human rights in Europe and Central Asia


Why is it important to work on employment in Europe?

LGBTI people in Europe face various forms of discrimination in employment. They may be directly discriminated against during recruitment procedures or when it comes to promotions. They may experience harassment in the form of ‘jokes’ or LGBTI-phobic comments or threats to ‘out’ them. Trans and intersex people may experience gender or sex discrimination related to the use of gender segregated facilities such as toilets or changing rooms or gender specific uniforms. LGBTI persons might simply not feel comfortable coming out to work colleagues and live in fear of exposure, discrimination or harassment.  

Furthermore, in many European countries, LGBTI people do not have access to family related leave (maternal/parental leave, bereavement, etc.) or are denied dependants’ benefits and pension arrangements.

Employment is an area which provides people with quite broad legal protection from discrimination.  However, 20% of LGBT people surveyed reported feeling discriminated against while looking for work, or at work, in the year preceding the Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA)’s LGBT Survey (2013). Both in the EU and beyond, discrimination of trans and intersex people in access to and in the labour market is exponentially higher than discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation. According to the FRA survey, one third of trans job seekers encountered discrimination, while another third felt discriminated against in their workplace. The rate of trans people in paid employment reaches only 51%, compared to 68% of the general population. For intersex people, data is still missing.

What is being done on national level and by the European institutions?

In the EU, all member states have now transposed the Employment Framework Directive (2000/78/EC) into national legislation, which prohibits discrimination in employment and occupation on the ground of sexual orientation (amongst other grounds).

In 2006, the European Union adopted the so-called Gender ‘Recast’ Directive (2006/54/EC), which brought together all previous laws and case-law related to gender equality in matters of employment and occupation. This law ensures that non-discrimination in employment in the EU also covers gender identity, as it refers to the decision of the European Union Court of Justice in P v. S and Cornwall County Council (1996) stating that:

“the principle of equal treatment for men and women cannot be confined to the prohibition of discrimination based on the fact that a person is of one or other sex [...] it also applies to discrimination arising from the gender reassignment of a person.”

Two important decisions in respect of the application of this Directive  to pension and social security rights were taken by the Court of Justice of the European Union in Tadao Maruko v Versorgungsanstalt der deutschen Bühnen (2008)] and Jürgen Römer v Freie und Hansestadt Hamburg (2011). Both cases related to the survivor’s pension of registered partners.

Beyond the EU, some countries have introduced, or are in the process of introducing, non-discrimination legislation in employment, covering the grounds of sexual orientation and in some places also gender identity (so far Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, Iceland, Kosovo, Moldova, Montenegro, Norway, Serbia, Switzerland. Check out the latest data on Rainbow Europe) These efforts are supported by the EU Enlargement Policy and European Neighbourhood Policy. The Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers recommendation on measures to combat discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity (CM/Rec(2010)5) urges countries to “provide effective protection against discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity in employment and occupation in the public as well as in the private sector.”

How does ILGA-Europe work on employment?

Equality for LGBTI people in employment and occupation cannot be achieved exclusively through legislation and sanctions against individual cases of discrimination. The achievement of full equality requires a comprehensive strategy including positive measures.

ILGA-Europe advocates for strong non-discrimination legislation in employment, monitors the implementation and application of existing legislation and advocates for supportive measures to ensure non-discrimination in the labour market across Europe.

Transposition of the Employment Framework Directive was slow. National laws did not always include all-encompassing sexual orientation provisions, while gender identity was even less sufficiently covered. ILGA-Europe are therefore drawing attention to the persistent problems of discrimination of LGBTI people in labour markets, both in the EU and across Europe.

ILGA-Europe liaise with Equinet (network of national equality bodies in the EU) and national equality bodies to effectively tackle discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and sex characteristics in employment. 

We also identify and support strategic litigation cases to close gaps in the legal protection in employment across Europe.

ILGA-Europe are engaging in conversations with companies, trade unions and NGOs on how to adopt LGBTI-specific policies and promote diversity management in Europe. We also ensure exchange of good practices of how to make European workplaces a good place to be, free of discrimination, for everyone.  

For more information, contact Katrin Hugendubel, Advocacy Director