Complaint Office - General Equal Treatment Act (AGG) in the Alfred Wegener Institute

Under the provisions of the General Equal Treatment Act, employees may complain to the competent authority if, in the context of their employment relationship, they believe they have been unequally treated through the conduct of their employer, their superiors, other employees or third parties on the basis of race, ethnic origin, gender, religion or world view, disability, age or sexual identity.

For the purposes of the General Equal Treatment Act, applicants for an employment relationship are also deemed employees.

The Complaint Office at the Alfred Wegener Institute is constituted by Katharina Kramer. Their contact details can be found on the right.


The General Equal Treatment Act

1. Objective and Scope

The General Equal Treatment Act came into effect on 18 August 2006 with the objective of protecting employees and prospective employees from disadvantage due to discrimination.

You will find a link to the current legal text of the Act in the column to the right.

The General Equal Treatment Act preserves and improves upon the protections against discrimination afforded by Article 3 of the Basic Law. It seeks to prevent or eliminate discrimination on the basis of racial or ethnic origin, gender, religion or world view, disability, age and sexual identity.

The Act is intended to protect against such disadvantages by providing affected parties with compensation for damages. This protection is valid for all employees within the meaning of the General Equal Treatment Act; therefore, all employees of the AWI and, as stated above, all applicants for an employment relationship with the AWI.

The scope of the General Equal Treatment Act covers all stages of the employment relationship, from the description of the job through the recruitment and promotion phases and up to termination (however, only general and special protection provisions apply in relation to a notice of dismissal).

2. Characteristics of Discrimination

It is forbidden to discriminate in employment and occupation the basis of

  • gender
  • disability
  • age
  • race and ethnic origin
  • religion and world view
  • sexual identity.

This is a comprehensive prohibition of discrimination in order to eliminate and prevent future direct and indirect disadvantages for the reasons mentioned.


Discrimination on the basis of gender

As is the case with § 611 of civil code (BGB) the Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender.  This Act also protects transsexuals and intersexuals against discrimination in employment related matters and establishes a legal basis to preclude discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, maternity or paternity.


Discrimination on the basis of disability

The term „disability“ covers all forms of disability. The provisions of the Act are thus not limited to the concept of severity.

The General Equal Treatment Act does not concern the granting of special rights or benefits which the (severely) disabled worker of applicant can claim.  Rather, it provides for the prevention of discrimination and harassment due to physical or mental impairment.


Discrimination on the basis of age

The term „age“ means the age of life in general, that is, every age.


Discrimination on the basis of race and ethnic origin

The term "race" is defined by the anti-racism directive. A definition is not possible because there are no human races. Ultimately, this term is intended to cover any racial or xenophobic discrimination, that is, any action directed against persons who are perceived as alien, different or not, for example, because of their skin colour, their eye shape or the nature of their hair.

The term "ethnic origin" means belonging to a specific cultural group - a particular community - the distinguishing features being non-hereditary. The mere nationality is not covered by the characteristic of ethnic origin.


Discrimination on the basis of religion and world view

The term „religion“ encompasses any religious, denominational avowal and affiliation with a church of religious community.

The term „world view“ is limited to inner-world references, meaning though-based systems which place world events in a greater context, without any reference to a God, the hereafter or anything outside the temporal world.


Discrimination on the basis of sexual identity

The concept of "sexual identity" includes homosexual men and women as well as bisexual and intersexed persons. Sexual disorders, however, are not covered by criminal law.

3. Prohibited behaviour

The term "classical" direct disadvantages, indirect disadvantages which are enshrined in company directives or company agreements (sexual harassment) as well as directives on discrimination, are regarded as disadvantages within the meaning of the Act.


Definitions (§ 3 AGG)

Direct discrimination occurs when a person is treated less favourably than a person in a comparable situation because of a discrimination feature.

Indirect discrimination occurs where neutral rules, criteria or procedures appear to be particularly detrimental to persons on grounds of discrimination under point 2 above, unless the relevant provisions, criteria or procedures are justified by a legitimate objective and the means are appropriate and necessary to achieve this (so-called ‘positive measures’).

A harassment is a disadvantage where undesirable practices related to a discrimination feature referred to in point 2 have the purpose or effect of violating the dignity of the person concerned and creating an environment characterized by intimidation, hostility, humiliation, degradation or insult. Whether a behaviour is undesirable must be assessed from the perspective of an objective observer. It is therefore sufficient that employees from a neutral point of view can assume that their behaviour is not desired or accepted by a colleague. It is not necessary for the harassed to defend themselves or to point out on their own that they feel bothered by a certain behaviour of their colleagues. On the other hand, harassment is not already present if employees are only subjectively bothered.

Examples of harassment:

  • derogatory and degrading remarks about origin, skin colour, speech disorders, physical attributes, disabilities, religion or the wearing of religious symbols
  • jokes and teasing, etc.
  • derogatory glances and gestures associated with discrimination
  • exclusion or harassment of workers in connection with discrimination characteristics; for example through conscious information gaps, spatial isolation, ignoring or assigning insulting, degrading tasks
  • xenophobic and racist behaviour
  • physical violence related to discrimination characteristics.

A sexual harassment is an unwanted, sexually determined behaviour which is intended or caused to violate the dignity of the person concerned. This is especially the case when a hostile environment is created. A single incident, however, is enough! The standard for the existence of sexual harassment is, as in the case of harassment, the perspective of an objective observer.

Examples of sexual harassment:

  • Unwanted sexual acts and calls for them
  • Sexual-specific physical contact (e.g., forced hugging)
  • Remarks of sexual content (e.g., about sexual behaviour or appeal), suggestive remarks and comments
  • In prospects of professional benefits when, in return, sexual favours are granted
  • Unwanted display and visible attachment of pornographic representations in the workplace, in dressing rooms, in the coffee kitchen or other social rooms, in the intranet, etc.

The instruction to deprive a person of one of the discriminatory features mentioned in point 2 is considered to be a disadvantage. Such an instruction is particularly applicable when someone determines a person to behave in a way that can disadvantage or discriminate against an employee because of a discrimination feature.

The prohibition of discrimination identified in the General Equal Treatment Act applies not only to the AWI as a legal entity or to the executive officers, but also to the actions of staff in interaction with their work colleagues, business partners and employees of AWI’s contract partners.

Each employee should deal with his / her colleagues and business partners correctly and in the same way as he or she would like to be treated.

Employees must not discriminate against, harass or sexually harass their colleagues. If they do so, they violate their obligations under the labour law and can be sanctioned accordingly – including reassignment, written warning or notice of termination.


Allowable different treatment

A difference in treatment on grounds of discrimination is permitted where that reason constitutes a fundamental and decisive professional requirement because of the nature of the activity to be performed or the conditions of its exercise, provided that the purpose is lawful and appropriate. Furthermore, the Act contains a number of regulations for permissible differential treatment due to age, e.g. setting a maximum age for recruitment.

4. Right of Appeal

Anyone who feels disadvantaged, harassed or sexually harassed by superiors, colleagues or business partners because of a discrimination feature can complain in writing to the Directorate Office. The complaint will be examined in substance.

Complainant employees are informed of the results. The test procedure is, of course, confidential. In the case of clarification, however, a complaint cannot be treated anonymously. Otherwise, no effective protection or sanction measures can be taken. Therefore, in most cases, the alleged perpetrators subject of the allegations will be questioned and any witnesses consulted.

Anti-discrimination associations and the Anti-Discrimination Agency of the Federal Government take account of the interests of disadvantaged persons. The Federal Anti-Discrimination Office has been established at the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth (E-Mail: References to institute-internal contact points and counselling may be found by employees on the Intranet (staff council, women representatives, people with disabilities etc.).

5. Information for employees

Right to refuse

Workers who are affected by discrimination, harassment or sexual harassment at the workplace are entitled to a right to refuse performance if the AWI has not taken appropriate measures to address the issues or concerns. It is necessary to report instances of discrimination, harassment or sexual harassment. Unless such reports are made to the Directorate Office, we cannot intervene for the protection of employees.

If workers refuse to work without proper cause, they may lose their remuneration.  In addition and according to the circumstances of the individual case, the AWI may issue a written warning or dismiss them.


Compensation and payment of damages

Violations of the prohibition of discrimination may lead to damages and compensation claims. Claims of discrimination must be submitted in writing to the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI) within two months of knowledge of the disadvantage. Claims for compensation must be lodged within three months after the claim has been asserted. Compensation for damages and compensation for disadvantages between employees may be reclaimed by AWI as the employer from the offender (regress).