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Language requirements did not constitute discrimination

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

More articles by this firm.

Taking into account a candidate’s Danish language skills was not contrary to the Danish Anti-Discrimination Act

It is not discriminatory for employers to take into account a candidate's Danish language skills if the job in question involves tasks that would make a requirement for Danish language proficiency reasonable. This was established by the Danish Board of Equal Treatment in a recent statement.

The complainant was a woman of non-Danish origin who applied for a telemarketing job. She was refused because her Danish language skills were inadequate for the job, according to the employer. This constituted discrimination on grounds of ethnic origin in her opinion and she therefore lodged a complaint with the Board.

Employer's discretion

But the Board did not agree with the complainant - the language requirements were justified by objective reasons.

The Board noted that language requirements may constitute indirect discrimination on grounds of ethnic origin in a recruitment process because they may have a discriminatory effect on applicants of non-Danish origin. Language requirements must therefore be justified by objective reasons for a legitimate purpose and must be appropriate and necessary to achieve that purpose.

The Board then stated that employers have discretion within the framework of the law in deciding if an employee is suited to a given job, including whether their Danish language skills are sufficient.

The Board dismissed the complaint, giving crucial weight to the fact that the telemarketing job in question involved telephone sales.

Norrbom Vinding notes: 

  • that the decision illustrates that refusing an applicant for a job because of insufficient language skills may constitute indirect discrimination on grounds of ethnic origin, but
  • employers are allowed to take language skills into account if the job in question involves tasks that would make a requirement for Danish language proficiency reasonable.

For more information please visit www.norrbomvinding.com