The Catholic University of America

Portuguese law professor Luís Menezes Leitão said the most significant civil rights protection achieved within the European Union is the elimination in nearly all instances of inequality between male and female workers.

Europe's Workforce is Well Protected, with Exceptions

To hold a job anywhere within the member states of the European Union is to enjoy a comprehensive set of legal protections unrivaled anywhere in the world. That is true for most workers, anyway.

The EU's complex body of regulations and directives regarding worker's rights was explained at length to an audience at the Columbus School of Law on Nov. 5 by Professor Dr. Luís Menezes Leitão of the University of Lisbon Law School. His remarks, "Worker's Rights from a European Union Perspective," documented the great lengths to which Europe has gone to ban workplace discrimination over gender, race, religious affiliation, disability, age or other factors.

For example, "You cannot refuse to hire someone because he has a different belief system or ideology," said Leitão.

However, the dozens of member nations that make up the EU can exempt themselves from some mandated worker protections under certain conditions. The most glaring exception is the military; Each nation may regulate its own civil rights protections for its armed forces.

Churches are allowed some flexibility under EU civil rights rules as well. While a church cannot insist that an employee share its faith, it is allowed to require workers to "act in good faith and with loyalty to the organization's ethos."

Professor Leitão's lecture was held under the auspices of CUA's Initiative for Portuguese and American Law, an eight-year-old collaboration between the law faculties of The Catholic University of America and the University of Lisbon which began in November 2000. Since then, the schools have taken turns hosting an annual conference and assorted symposia that offers educational seminars on such subjects as Portuguese and American legal administrative law, constitutional law, cyber law, electronic surveillance, environmental law, federalism and religious freedom.

The initiative has earned the funding support of the Luso-American Development Foundation, as well as the political support of the Embassy of Portugal in Washington. Some members of the embassy staff were in attendance at the lecture, as was the Hon. Phillip Rapoza, chief justice of the Appeals Court of Massachusetts, who serves on the initiative's board of directors.