Not a very good opening line

HR News
18 Jan 2016

an employer was ordered by the danish board of equal treatment to pay around eur 670 in compensation for making a comment about a candidate having a non-danish name.

Rasmus Linding

An employer was ordered by the Danish Board of Equal Treatment to pay around EUR 670 in compensation for making a comment about a candidate having a non-Danish name.

In the evaluation of a candidate for a job, only objective criteria may be given weight. As a result, the ‎employer is not allowed to obtain information about a candidate's ethnic or national origin. If the ‎employer does so anyway, he may end having to pay compensation to the candidate. In this complaint ‎before the Danish Board of Equal Treatment, the question was whether an employer had violated this ‎principle by commenting at a job interview that the applicant's name was not a typically Danish name.‎

The case concerned a job applicant of Indian origin with an Indian name. At the interview, the employer ‎commented on the candidate's name, and the candidate had to explain his national origin. The parties ‎disagreed as to the exact words that had been spoken by the employer. To the candidate's recollection, ‎the employer had said: "So, I can see from your name that you are not from Denmark", whereas the ‎employer recalled saying something along the lines of: "I can see that your name is not typically Danish, ‎please tell me about yourself…".‎

When the candidate was subsequently rejected for the job, he believed that the unpleasant ‎atmosphere caused by the employer's comment in his opinion had been a contributing factor as to why ‎he was rejected. The candidate therefore filed a complaint with the Board of Equal Treatment.‎

Attempted dialogue
The employer argued before the Board that the comment was to be understood in its proper context as ‎it had been an attempt to open a dialogue between the parties and that the answer to the question had ‎been of no consequence.‎

The employer further argued that if there had been any intention on his part to discriminate on grounds ‎of the candidate's name, he would simply not have invited the candidate for the job interview.‎

The Board held that – regardless of the parties' disagreement as to the exact words that had been ‎spoken – the employer had obtained information about the candidate's ethnic and national origin.‎

Accordingly, the candidate was awarded around EUR 670 in compensation.‎


Norrbom Vinding notes

  • that the decision is a reflection of a very literal interpretation of the prohibition on obtaining ‎information about a candidate's ethnic and national origin as well as the other protected grounds in ‎section 4 of the Danish Anti-Discrimination Act; and ‎
  • that employers should therefore be very careful in which questions they ask at job interviews.‎