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The General Act on Equal Treatment protects everyone against discrimination in working life on the grounds of ethnic origin, gender, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual identity.

People may not be discriminated against in job advertisements or job interviews on these grounds. Whether or not a person is invited to an interview and gets the job must depend on their individual qualifications. Job advertisements containing clear exclusions, such as “German applicants only“, forms of address targeted only at a certain group, such as “We are looking for a waitress”, indirect exclusion, such as “Native German speaker“ or unwarranted age limits, such as “We are looking for staff up to 55 years of age“ are not permitted.

At job interviews, questions about a characteristic specified in the General Act on Equal Treatment, such as “Are you a Muslim?“, about family planning, such as “Are you pregnant?“ or about the applicant’s state of health are prohibited. Employers are required to comply with this ban. And anyone asked such questions in a selection procedure should be aware that they are not required to give a truthful reply to discriminatory questions at a job interview.

What can people do if they have been discriminated against in a job selection process?

People who did not get a job on account of a characteristic specified in the General Act on Equal Treatment can take court action against the employer. If such action is successful, you do not have the right to the job, but you do have a right to damages and compensation payments. In addition, applicants can contact the employer’s complaints department because they are deemed to be employees within the meaning of the General Act on Equal Treatment.

Claims for damages and compensation have to be made to the employer in writing within two months of receiving a rejection. Following this claim, persons affected have three months to lodge an action. There is no time limit for civil servants, however. For an action to be successful, affected persons must submit evidence that indicates that they were discriminated against in the selection process. Such evidence may be discriminatory wording in the job advertisement, discriminatory questions or comments at the job interview or the fact that an objectively less well qualified candidate got the job. Such an action is generally likely to be successful if one did not get the job and the person who was employed instead does not belong to the characteristic group on the grounds of which one feels disadvantaged. For example, if a woman complains that she has been discriminated against on the grounds of gender, her court action is likely to be successful if the person who was actually employed is not also a woman. If a court decides that the evidence submitted is convincing, the respective employer must provide counterevidence that no discrimination has taken place.

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