Supreme Court of Lithuania rules on indirect discrimination at work

The Lithuanian Supreme Court has ruled on indirect discrimination against unionized workers.

On 26 August 2021, the Supreme Court of Lithuania ruled on indirect discrimination against unionized workers.

The court was faced with a factual situation where the employer, by a director’s order, had granted employees extended annual leave of 30 working days. However, under a collective agreement concluded between the employer and the trade union, the same employees who were members of the trade union were granted 27 working days of extended annual leave. This period of annual leave could be extended, in accordance with the terms of the collective agreement, on the basis of the workers’ continuous 15 years of work experience in the workplace.

After the employer and the union signed the Collective Agreement, the employer refused to apply the Director’s Order to the union members. Thus, trade union members who had not worked for the employer for 15 years were only entitled to extended annual leave of between 27 and 29 working days, while other non-unionized workers were entitled to annual leave of 30 working days, irrespective of their working experience

The Supreme Court of Lithuania found that the situation in the case at issue met the criteria of indirect discrimination: the employer’s rule on the number of days of leave was nominally neutral, but had a negative impact on the rights of some employees (employees with less than 15 years of work experience), and that this negative impact was linked to trade union membership. The Court stated that, under such conditions, the employer was encouraging non-unionized workers by granting them additional days of annual leave.

The Court also ruled on the relationship between the collective agreement and the local regulation (the Director’s Order), stating that in such cases the principle of in favorem must be applied, i.e., the terms and conditions must be applied in such a way as to increase the guarantees of the employees’ labour rights. A contrary interpretation would mean that the employer would gain a significant advantage over the employees (trade union members), as local legislation could make union membership unfavourable to the employees and the trade union itself ineffective.

Judgment of the Supreme Court of Lithuania of 26 August 2021 in civil case No. e3K-3-199-701/2020

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