Polish labour law provides regulations that allow an employee to pursue a claim in the event of mobbing or discrimination in the workplace. In addition to the concepts of discrimination and mobbing, the Labour Code mentions unequal treatment. The distinction between these phenomena is very important in the case of litigation and the issue of the allocation of the burden of proof, which is why in today’s blog post we will analyse an extremely important resolution of the Supreme Court of August 24, 2023, ref. III PZP 1/23, which undoubtedly served to clarify emerging doubts about the interpretation of the regulations.
Why is it important to distinguish between mobbing and discrimination?
The above concepts, although they appear to be the same in some situations, are extremely important when determining the claim by an employee taking legal action against an employer. Depending on the phenomenon, the burden of proof will be on:
- the employee – in the case of the occurrence of mobbing, as he must prove that he has become a victim of mobbing by demonstrating that he meets a number of conditions under the Labour Code,
- the employer – in the case of the occurrence of discrimination, as he must show that he did not apply legally impermissible criteria, treating employees unequally.
In the case of unequal treatment, the regulations do not explicitly provide rules for the employer’s liability and the employee’s claims.
Until now, the jurisprudence of the Supreme Court has not been unanimous, and it has not been possible to state unequivocally whether the behaviour of unequal treatment at work can be equated with discrimination, which would allow the burden of proof to be shifted to the employer and the employee to benefit from his claims, or whether unequal treatment is a separate phenomenon from the other two. Two opposing positions have so far been presented.
Background of the case before the Supreme Court
In the present case, the plaintiff filed a lawsuit with the Regional Court Kraków-Nowa Huta in Kraków claiming PLN 67,851.50 from the defendant employer as compensation for discrimination with interest, but she also indicated an alternative claim in the form of compensation for violation of the principle of equal treatment in employment in terms of shaping the remuneration for work, if the court found that it was not proven that the inequality in the plaintiff’s remuneration was a consequence of discrimination.
The court of first instance awarded the plaintiff the amount of PLN 45,000 with statutory interest as compensation for violation of the principle of equal treatment, indicating that, in its opinion, there was no discriminatory practice. An appeal against the verdict of the District Court for Krakow-N Nowa Huta in Krakow was filed by the defendant. The District Court in Kraków found that there was a significant legal issue in the case and referred a legal question to the Supreme Court – are the provisions of Chapter IIa of Section I of the Labour Code regarding compensation for discrimination (in particular, Article 183d of the Labour Code) applicable to violations of the principle of equal treatment (Article 112 of the Labour Code)?
Resolution of the Supreme Court
The above doubts have been resolved by the latest resolution of the Supreme Court of August 24, 2023, ref. III PZP 1/23. The Supreme Court indicated that any behavior that constitutes unequal treatment at work is discrimination, and consequently, the legal dispute regarding the legal basis for the employee’s claim has been resolved. According to the aforementioned resolution, Article 183d of the Labor Code, which provides for compensation for discrimination, applies in the case of a violation of the principle of equal treatment from Article 112 of the Labor Code.
The workplace should first and foremost be a space where employees feel accepted, valued, and treated with due respect. Unfortunately, in reality, this is not always practiced, which leads to serious problems of discrimination and mobbing. Is unequal treatment a type of discrimination in which the burden of proof is on the employer and the employee can claim compensation from the employer? Or is it a third phenomenon, independent of mobbing and discrimination, where the employee is not entitled to the aforementioned claims? The latest ruling of the Supreme Court seems to dispel these doubts, indicating that for unequal treatment an employee is entitled to the compensation indicated in the wording of the discrimination provisions.
Bearing in mind both the above-mentioned considerations, as well as the desire to increase awareness of the subjects of the employment relationship about aspects related to discrimination and mobbing, we cordially encourage you to participate in the conference organized by our law firm “Mobbing, discrimination and work-life balance – 3 challenges for organizations”, which will be held already on November 23!
Paula Staszak-Urbańska, LL.M., Trainee attorney-at-law (PL)
Mateusz Turowski, Trainee attorney-at-law (PL)