This summary of age discrimination law in Bulgaria has been prepared by Boyanov & Co, the Ius Laboris member for Bulgaria: boyanov.com

Overview

The prohibition for age discrimination was introduced through the Labour Code in 2001.  Later, such prohibition was also laid down in the Protection against Discrimination Act from 2003 (“PDA”).

PDA defines both direct and indirect discrimination.

Direct discrimination occurs when a person is treated less favourably than other people in a similar situation because of his age (or other protected feature).

Indirect discrimination occurs if, due to his age (or other protected feature), a person is put into disadvantage compared to other persons by a seemingly neutral provision, criterion or practice, unless this is (a) objectively justified in the view of a legitimate aim and (b) the means of achieving that aim are appropriate and necessary.

Harassment based on any protected feature (including age), and instigation for discrimination are also forms of discrimination.

In addition to the general protection, specifically in the field of employment, PDA has a separate section named “Protection in Exercising the Right to Work”.

It prohibits discrimination on any protected ground (including age) in the fields of recruitment, working conditions, pay, performance-evaluation criteria, vocational training, qualification, career path, disciplinary measures, and most common types of unilateral dismissal. The employer is obliged to undertake effective measures to prevent all forms of discrimination in the workplace and is also obliged to react to harassment claims and undertake the necessary actions to stop it and engage the disciplinary liability of the employee in question.  There are special provisions aimed to compensate for disadvantages suffered at work by disabled individuals, pregnant women or women on maternity leave, as well as to promote employment of the gender or ethnic group which is not at represented by the employer.

The employer has the general obligation to present, in a visible place in its enterprise, the text of the Protection against Discrimination Act, as well as all provisions of its internal acts and of the collective labour agreement which relate to protection against discrimination.  The employer is also obliged to present information to each employee who claims discrimination.

Who's covered?

All individuals are covered by anti-discrimination protection.  In addition, the protection covers associations and entities when they are discriminated against in regards to their members or employees.

What enforcement/remedies exist?

The Commission for Protection against Discrimination (the “Commission”) is a specialised 9-member author for prevention of discrimination, protection against discrimination, and provision of level-field opportunities.  The courts (civil and administrative, depending on the body that committed discrimination) also have jurisdiction over discrimination disputes.

Each person may initiate a legal proceeding before the Commission or directly before the court.  While the Commission only has the authority to establish the discrimination, issue compulsory directions for cease of such behaviour, and impose a monetary penalty (up to 1,000 Euros in the general case), the court may also award claims for damages which amount is determined on a case-by-case basis, but they are not high (in most cases up to 2,000 Euros).  The court cannot however, impose penalties.

The decision of the Commission is the subject of two-instance judicial review.  It is possible first to initiate a proceeding before the Commission, and once discrimination is established, to initiate a proceeding for an award of damages before the court.

State fees are not due for proceedings before the Commission/courts, and the expenses for the proceedings are also covered by them.

How common are claims?

Age discrimination claims are not the most common type of discrimination claims.  The number of complaints based on age discrimination (both as a separate claim and as part of multiple discrimination claims) before the Commission has varied between 26 and 60 in recent years.  There is no established trend for an increase or decrease of the number of claims based on age discrimination.

What claims are most common and what are the trickiest issues for employers?

The claims vary and there are no common types, but as could be expected, the claims are mostly related to age restrictions for hiring, unequal treatment or harassment during employment, and dismissal based on age.  We advise employers to legally review their policies/actions before implementation, which also includes review for anti-discrimination compliance.

Are there any specific exceptions in your law?

Yes, there are exceptions.

Different treatment based on age is justified in the following cases:

  • Different treatment due to the nature of the particular occupational activities concerned or of the conditions in which they are carried out, if age constitutes a genuine and determining occupational requirement, provided that that objective is legitimate and the requirement is proportionate.
  • The setting of a minimum age, professional experience, or length of service for recruitment or for granting of certain benefits related to work, provided that this is objectively justified for the achievement of a legitimate aim and the requirement is proportionate.
  • The setting of a maximum age for recruitment which is based on the training requirements for the post in question or the need for a reasonable period of employment before retirement provided that this this is objectively justified for the achievement of a legitimate aim and the requirement is proportionate.
  • Age (and length of service) requirements set by law for the purposes of pension social security.
  • Age requirements related to measures or programs under the Employment Promotion Act.
  • The setting of requirements for minimum and maximum age for access to training and education, if it is objectively justified for achievement of a legitimate aim in view of the nature of the training or the education, or of the conditions in which they are carried out, and the requirements are proportionate.
  • Setting of a maximum age limit for eligibility for a loan under the Student and Doctoral-Candidate Loans Act. 

Retirement

There are different retirement ages for the different types of employees. The most common retirement age for 2015 which applies to employees working under normal working conditions is 63 years and 8 months for men and 60 years and 8 months for women.  The retirement age would increase gradually in the coming years reaching 65 years for both men and women.

The retirement age is lower for military servants, firemen, policemen, teachers, employees working under hard or dangerous working conditions, and other special categories of employees.

Please note that retirement age itself does not entitle the employee to a pension, but there is also a requirement for certain length of service (in general cases, 38 years for men and 35 years for women for 2015, but it would also gradually increase during the coming years reaching 40 years for men and 37 years for women).

The employer may unilaterally terminate the employment relation with the employee when the latter become eligible for pension for age and social security length of service.

Interesting cases

One of the interesting cases in the recent years involved a large telecommunication company which dismissed a large number of employees from its sales department where 90& of the dismissed employees where above 39 years of age.  At the same time, the company expanded and hired predominantly young employees.  The Commission found that company’s officials committed age discrimination by harassing and pressing these employees to accept termination of their employment contracts.  However, the first-instance administrative court annulled this decision due to expired prescription term as the proceedings before the Commission took more than 3 years.  The decision was appealed, and the case is now pending before the Supreme Administrative Court.