On 1 December 2020 the Hungarian Parliament decided that as of 1 January 2021, one of the most effective bodies in the fight against discrimination, the Equal Treatment Authority (ETA) will be abolished. Its duties, including the legal protection against racial, gender and other discrimination, will be taken over by the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights. The proceedings ongoing on 1 January 2021 will be suspended until 31 January 2021. Likewise, ongoing administrative lawsuits appealing against decisions of ETA on 1 January 2021 will be suspended until 31 January 2021.
The establishment of the ETA with national competence was based on EU law. Its main task was to investigate complaints about discrimination and to enforce equal treatment. An application for a discrimination investigation can be made by the injured party if they have been disadvantaged by one their protected characteristics. Protected characteristics are listed by law, including gender, skin color, nationality, health status, religious or ideological beliefs, political or other opinion, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, sexual orientation and financial situation.
The abolition of the body does not substantially change the procedure, but merely moves it into different laws concerning the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights. The measure has been explained by the fact that the prohibition of discrimination and the right to equal treatment is derived from the Constitution, and fundamental rights are primarily protected by the Ombudsman, thus it is appropriate to direct them to the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights. According to the legislator, the integration of the Ombudsman and ETA will create a legal institution that will ensure more effective enforcement of equal treatment. By taking over the tasks of ETA, the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights has a wider power to investigate and take actions to enforce fundamental rights, mainly equal treatment.
Although the violation of equal treatment may not only arise in the context of employment, in the recent years a number of decisions appeared finding and sanctioning discrimination against employees.
By Levente Csengery, Partner, KCG Partners Law Firm