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Is it allowed for an employer to dismiss an employee due to the employee’s sexual orientation?

Sexual orientation is considered to be homosexual, bisexual or heterosexual orientation, i.e. with whom the person prefers to establish intimate relationships. Based on the Equal Treatment Act, a person must not be discriminated against or treated less favourably because of his or her sexual orientation.

Often people are discouraged from disclosing their sexual identity, primarily because of their insecurity and fear of other people’s attitudes. It is also believed that the employer may treat the employee differently when he or she is aware of the relationship preferences of the employee. This situation may create unpleasant situations for the employee and even lead to a hostile and degrading atmosphere. Although it is important to keep private and professional life separate at work, it is often difficult to do so, because during coffee breaks there is still talk of the past weekend or of a partner and family.

Based on the Equal Treatment Act, an employer may not terminate an employment relationship because of the employee’s sexual orientation. It is only possible to terminate the employment relationship with the employee if the economic situation (redundancy) so requires or if the employee’s mistakes and violations make it impossible to continue the employment relationship. Based on the Employment Contracts Act, the employer should comply with the principle of equal treatment and promote equality in accordance with the Gender Equality Act and the Equal Treatment Act.

If the employer has not previously complained about the work of the person, but the employer’s attitude changes after the employee’s same-sex partner or his/her sexual identity has been disclosed, discrimination may be suspected. An employee who has been the victim of direct discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation should talk to his employer to settle the problem. Conversations with a trusted person, such as a HR or department manager, may also help. If that does not work, you can involve a third party to help you find a solution. If you have any concerns related to sexual orientation, you may contact the Estonian Commissioner for Gender Equality and Equal Treatment in a free format by sending an email to avaldus@volinik.ee. When contacting the Commissioner, the identity of the person shall not be disclosed and anonymity shall be guaranteed. You can also contact both the labour dispute committee and the Chancellor of Justice for conciliation procedure.