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Equal Rights for People with Disabilities

Of particular significance in the legislation on disability equality are the Federal Disability Equality Act for everyday issues as well as a section in the Disability Employment Act containing provisions for the world of work.

Protection against discrimination applies to people with physical, mental, psychological or sensory disabilities as well as those people who are close to them (e.g. family members). family members).

In order to obtain protection against discrimination, the person’s disability does not have to be officially confirmed, but the discrimination must be in relation to the disability.

Ban on discrimination in everyday life

Discrimination in accordance with disability equality law is given when people are disadvantaged compared to other people as a result of their disability, for example by less favourable treatment or also by hindrances.

Discrimination in the form of barriers is given when the elimination of the hindrances is legally possible and reasonable. For example, if the subsequent installation of a lift in an older building is not possible for reasons of constructional law or the law on the protection of monuments, the lack of accessibility does not constitute discrimination in this case.

If the installation is legally possible, a reasonableness test is carried out by a court. Barriers only constitute discrimination when the realisation of accessibility can be reasonably expected of the party in question.

Other forms of discrimination are instructing others to discriminate against third parties, and harassment due to a disability.

Instruction means that one person encourages or makes others discriminate against or harass one or more people with disabilities.

Harassment is undesired, uncalled-for or offensive behaviour which violates a person’s dignity.

Legal procedures in the case of discrimination

If a person feels discriminated against, their first step should be to contact the Sozialministeriumservice. There, an attempt will be made to solve the problem via conciliation proceedings.

The statute of limitations is suspended during the conciliation proceedings. This means that any deadlines are postponed and that entitlements cannot expire or lapse.

Only when conciliation proceedings have failed can legal action be taken to obtain damages, or in the case of harassment to obtain an injunction.

Legal basis

For people with disabilities, the Federal Disability Equality Act (Bundes-Behindertengleichstellungsgesetz) has created a statutory ban on discrimination in broad areas of everyday life.

The law is effective in two areas:

  • A ban on the discrimination of people with disabilities in matters related to the federal administration (e.g. tax law, passports and registration, criminal and civil law, large sections of the schools system), and
  • a ban on the discrimination of people with disabilities in their access to and the provision of goods and services which are available to the public (e.g. shopping facilities, events and general leisure-time activities such as cinemas and swimming baths).

Legal protection

If conciliation proceedings do not lead to an amicable settlement, legal action can still be taken in court.

Damages/compensation

If the court establishes that there is discrimination, there is a right to damages. Within the framework of this obligation to pay damages, the financial losses suffered by those affected are compensated for, and  in cases of gross negligence or intent on the part of the causer of the damage, lost profit also has to be replaced.

There is also an entitlement to a suitable amount of money for the personal restrictions suffered and/or the offence caused by the discrimination. If the discrimination consisted of harassment (such as verbal abuse, making fun of someone or denigration), the victim of discrimination receives at least the minimum amount of damages of €1,000.

Injunction

Since 1 January 2018, legal action to obtain an injunction can also be taken in cases of discrimination by means of harassment.

Class action

If the general interests of people with disabilities are seriously and lastingly harmed, the Austrian National Council of Disabled Persons (umbrella organisation of  Austrian disabled persons’ associations), the Disability Ombudsperson and the claimants’ association for the assertion of the rights of victims of discrimination can initiate a class action to establish discrimination. A class action is also conceivable in the field of discrimination due to a lack of accessibility, for example when a large number of people with disabilities are affected and their participation in the life of society is considerably and lastingly restricted by this lack of accessibility.

However, with a class action it is not possible to assert an entitlement to compensation; it can only establish that certain facts constitute discrimination in the meaning of the law.

Class actions against large companies are an exception – here it is possible to initiate a class action for an injunction and the elimination of barriers.

Legal action can also be taken to obtain an injunction forcing private insurance companies to cease discriminatory behaviour.

The prohibition of discrimination in the world of work

The ban on discrimination against people with disabilities in the world of work covers employment law, federal civil service law as well as the remaining world of employment.

The ban on discrimination particularly applies:

  • when an employment relationship is being established (application, start of employment);
  • when wages are being determined;
  • when voluntary social benefits are granted;
  • with regard to measures concerning initial training, further training and retraining;
  • with regard to career advancement;
  • with regard to other employment conditions;
  • when the work relationship is to be terminated (discriminatory redundancy or dismissal can be challenged in court);
  • in relation to access to careers advice, vocational training, further training and retraining outside an employment relationship;
  • in relation to the membership of and activity within an employees’ or employers’ organisation, or an organisation whose members belong to a specific professional group, including taking advantage of the benefits of such organisations, and
  • with regard to the conditions for the access to self-employed work.

Additional provisions on non-discrimination are contained within the sphere of responsibility of the provinces.    

Legal procedures in the case of discrimination

If a person feels discriminated against, their first step should be to contact the Sozialministeriumservice. There, an attempt will be made to solve the problem via dispute resolution (conciliation proceedings).

Only when conciliation proceedings have failed can legal action be taken to obtain damages, or in the case of harassment to obtain an injunction.

If the discrimination consisted of harassment (such as verbal abuse, making fun of someone, denigration), the victim of discrimination is entitled to at least the minimum amount of damages of €1,000. Since 1 January 2018, legal action to obtain an injunction can also be taken in cases of discrimination by means of harassment.

The assertion of claims has to be made in a court of law (or in matters concerning civil service law, to the employing authority).

If the court establishes that there is discrimination, there is a right to damages. Within the framework of this obligation to pay damages, the financial losses suffered by the person affected are compensated for, and in cases of gross negligence or intent on the part of the causer of the damage, lost profit also has to be replaced.

There is also an entitlement to a suitable amount of money for the personal restrictions suffered and/or the offence caused by the discrimination. If the discrimination consisted of harassment (such as verbal abuse, making fun of someone or denigration, the victim of discrimination receives at least the minimum amount of damages of €1,000.

Solutions in the world of work

Unlike in access to goods and services, where there can only be compensation, in the world of employment it is possible to take legal action to enforce the creation of a discrimination-free state of affairs.

In practice, this could be the elimination of a constructional barrier in the workplace, in the canteen or the company nursery school/kindergarten. Here there is also a reasonableness test.

If elimination cannot be reasonably expected, the company can also offer the next-best solution, such as a lunch allowance so that staff who are wheelchair users and cannot access the canteen can have lunch in an accessible pub or restaurant for a similarly reasonable cost.

Help with legal questions

The Disability Ombudsperson – who is responsible for issues related to the equal treatment of people with disabilities – provides advice and support in relation to disability-related discrimination.

Evaluation

The legislation on disability equality was evaluated in 2011. The conciliation procedure was assessed as being extremely positive.

Volume 10 of the Social Policy Study Series –  Evaluation of the Legislation on Disability Equality – is available in German from the Brochure Service.

last update: 21 November 2019