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Change in working hours constituted discrimination

August 2009 - Employment. Legal Developments by Norrbom Vinding Law Firm, member of ius laboris.

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An employer breached the Danish Act on Equal Treatment of Men and Women by changing a pregnant employee’s weekly working hours from 37 to 27

When an employer reduces an employee's working hours and pay, it constitutes a material change, which means that the employee may choose to consider him-/herself dismissed. If the employee is pregnant, such a dismissal may be contrary to the Danish Act on Equal Treatment of Men and Women. This principle was stressed by the Danish Board of Equal Treatment in a recent decision.

The complainant was a legal secretary who had been employed for about 3 months. She was given notice that her weekly working hours would be reduced from 37 to 27 due to a decrease in the employer's caseload and teaching activities. She received the notice after two days of pregnancy-related absence.

The employee believed that the change in working hours was so substantial that it constituted a dismissal and that the change had been made for pregnancy-related reasons. She therefore filed a complaint with the Board, claiming compensation under the Danish Act for Equal Treatment of Men and Women.

The Board found that the change in working hours was so substantial as to constitute dismissal, and because it had been effected while the employee was pregnant, it was for the employer to prove that the change had not been made for pregnancy-related reasons.

The Board was not satisfied that the employer had discharged the burden of proof. The Board took into account that the employee had been employed for only about 3 months and that the employer should have known already at the date of engagement how many secretarial hours were needed. Accordingly, the change in working hours was contrary to the Act and the employee was awarded 6 months' pay in compensation.  

Yvonne Frederiksen