Equality, non-discrimination and harassment

An employer’s obligation to treat all employees and job applicants equally is provided for in both the Employment Contracts Act and the Non-Discrimination Act. The employer is required to actively promote equality among the employees and discourage any discrimination at the workplace. The objective is to incorporate the promotion of equality into regular workplace development. 

Harassment can happen in any type of workplace. The employer has a duty to monitor their employees and intervene in harassment proactively.

Employers must systematically monitor the social dynamic of the work community and take appropriate action to prevent harassment. Policies that prevent harassment can for example be:

  • adopting a zero tolerance policy
  • agreeing on rules of the workplace
  • putting in place proper procedures to address harassment
  • educating employees on the importance of avoiding and preventing harassment
  • training managers to identify, address and resolve cases of harassment

According to the Employment Contracts Act, an employer may not, without justifiable grounds, place employees in an unequal position on the basis of age, health, national or ethnic origin, sexual orientation, language, religion, opinion, family relations, trade union activity, political activity or some other comparable reason. According the Non-Discrimination Act other prohibited basis for discriminaton are race, skin colour, disability, social background and belief/conviction. Place of residence, wealth or social status may furthermore constitute prohibited bases for discrimination.

Discrimination as meant by the Employment Contracts Act only takes place when the employer knowingly places an employee in an unequal position on one of the reasons mentioned above.

Terms of employment less favourable than in other employment relationships may not be applied in fixed-term and part-time employment relationships solely due to the duration of the employment relationship or the length of working hours, unless this is justifiable due to appropriate grounds.

The employer must treat employees equally in all other respects as well, unless there is justifiable reason when considering the employees’ tasks and position. This requires the employer to exercise a certain degree of consistency in its activities and decisions concerning employees. However, at times it may be acceptable and appropriate, due to the nature of the work or working conditions, to place an employee in a unequal (different) position. It should be noted that the requirement of equal treatment does not prevent the use of incentive remuneration schemes, provided that the schemes do not include discriminatory or otherwise inappropriate determination grounds.

Employers must also adhere to the prohibition of discrimination of the Employment Contracts Act when recruiting employees.

The Non-Discrimination Act also applies to recruitment conditions, working conditions, benefits and career advancement. The Non-Discrimination Act prohibits both direct and indirect discrimination. Harassment and instructions or an order to discriminate are also defined as prohibited discrimination.

The Act on the Equality between Women and Men also defines discrimination based on sex or gender to be unlawful.

  • Justifiable and reasonable orders regarding the work and working arrangement
  • Giving a warning on justifiable grounds
  • Business decisions
  • Procedures based on an equality plan and intended to implement the intention of the Non-Discrimination Act in practice even if they lead to unequal treatment.
  • Justified different treatment founded on a genuine and real requirement of the job
  • Different treatment based on age, if justified by a reasonable objective
  • Different treatment due to age limits, invalidity, or qualification
  • Positive discrimination is not discrimination as long as measures are temporary and proportionate to the objectives

If you suspect that you have been discriminated against in your employment contract regarding salary for example or have been treated unequally without a justifiable reason based on the above criteria, then you should take the following steps:

  • Ask your employer for an explanation. Discuss the issue with your employer and ask for a written explanation on why, you have been treated unequally and on what grounds.
  • Talk to your shop steward (luottamusmies) or work-safety representative (työsuojeluvaltuutettu)
  • If after discussion the matter with your employer, you still suspect that you have been discriminated in an unlawful manner, or you cannot get a proper explanation from you employer, you can contact the Union to get clarification in the matter or bring it to court proceedings
  • Notice that you must start proceedings within 2 years of the discrimination
  • When contacting the Union or government work safety be prepared to explain the following:
    1. What action or procedure by your employer was discriminating?
    2. On what basis do you think it was discriminating?
    3. Is your employer aware of the basis of discrimination before taking the discriminating action?
    4. How has your employer justified the action that you view as discrimination?

If you need help please contact the Union and we will help you assess whether or not there is a basis for this unequal treatment or whether it is a case of discrimination.

If an employer has violated the prohibition on discrimination in the Non-Discrimination Act or the Equal treatment of Women and Men Act, they are obligated to pay compensation to the injured party. Depending on the severity of the infringement, the maximum amount of compensation is currently 17.800 euros. The compensation is exempt from taxes, if it has been awarded by a court of law. The claim for compensation must be filed within two years of the infringement or, if the infringement is of a continuous nature, within two years of the infringement ending.

In cases of recruitment, the period to start proceedings is one year after the applicant has received notification of the recruitment decision.

If an employer violated the prohibition on discrimination in the Employment Contracts Act, they must compensate the employee for damage caused. Such claims must be filed within two years of the infringement.

Discrimination in employment is also in some cases a criminal offence.

Harassment includes the following:

  • repeated threats,
  • intimidation,
  • malicious or suggestive comments,
  • belittling remarks,
  • persistent unwarranted criticism and sabotage of performance,
  • attacks on reputation or status,
  • systemic exclusion, or
  • sexual harassment.

Abuse of authority can also be a form of harassment. For example:

  • systemic unwarranted scrutiny of performance,
  • making arbitrary changes in the nature of work or workload,
  • introducing unlawful amendments to agreed terms of employment, or
  • allocation of humiliating tasks.

Sexual harassment and harassment based on gender, as well as an order or instructions to engage in gender-based discrimination constitute discrimination as referred to in the Act on Equality between Women and Men.

Sexual harassment, which means harassment and molestation based on gender, is prohibited discrimination. Harassment based on gender and unwanted behaviour of the kind that is based on gender but not sexual in nature, is also prohibited. Such cases may involve degrading speech targeting the opposite sex and other degrading or demeaning of the opposite sex. When workplace bullying is based on the gender of the bullied person, the case constitutes prohibited harassment based on gender.

Confront you harasser as soon as possible. You can bring a co-worker or a shop steward with you. Explain to the harasser why you find their conduct offensive and tell them that you will not tolerate their behaviour. Provide examples of what in their conduct you find inappropriate. Ask them to stop. Document the harassment.

If your harasser continues to behave inappropriately towards you, then report them to your supervisor. If your harasser is your supervisor or line manager, then report it to their manager.

It is important to keep a record of harassment.

The employer’s obligation to stop harassment starts, when you have notified the employers representative (your supervisor or his supervisor) of this fact in writing.

The employer must take steps to stop harassment within a reasonable time after receiving a report of harassment. A reasonable time is usually a few weeks.

If your employer does not take appropriate steps to stop the harassment, then contact the shop steward, if your workplace has one or the Union and we will help you to take matters forwards.

Harassment can also be discrimination, if the basis for harassment is one of the criteria like sex, gender, ethnic background etc. Harassment becomes discrimination if the employer does not act within a reasonable time to stop the harassment.