The Non-Discrimination Act prohibits discrimination based on age. The prohibition of discrimination laid down in the Non-Discrimination Act applies to discrimination against individuals of all ages.
Age discrimination often manifests itself in unjustified age limits. For example: young people may not enter self-service libraries or service stations, people over the age of 65 may not seek responsible positions in associations, medical clinics terminate agreements with doctors over the age of 70 without individual assessment, or students over the age of 30 are not given the same discounts as those under the age of 30. Even though all these cases may involve discrimination, age-related restrictions should always be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.
Age is one of the most common grounds for discrimination in cases involving multiple discrimination. Thus, when an individual is discriminated against on the basis of age, the case may also involve discrimination for example on grounds of gender, disability or ethnic origin.
Age discrimination may be direct or indirect. For example unjustifiably requiring that an employee must work for a specific number of years to qualify for certain benefits may involve indirect age discrimination.
Different treatment on grounds of age does not constitute discrimination if the treatment is based on the law and has an acceptable objective, and the means of achieving the objective are proportionate. Thus, there must be an acceptable and proportionate reason for setting age limits (such as protecting children). For example the age limits laid down under the Alcohol Act are permitted. Treatment that has an acceptable objective in terms of fundamental and human rights does not always require a statutory basis. Discounts for pensioners offered by service providers are an example of this.
Different treatment in employment on grounds of age
People are often treated differently on grounds of age in employment. Treating individuals differently in employment and in recruitment is permitted on certain conditions: Differential treatment must be based on the type of the work tasks and real requirements arising from performing the tasks that are of essential nature. It must also be proportionate, which means that the employer may not try to achieve the objective in an inappropriate or unreasonable manner.
Treating people differently on grounds of age may also be justified if the aim is to achieve a specific employment policy or labour market objective. However, under the Non-Discrimination Act, the treatment must be ‘objectively and appropriately’ justified. For example an employment campaign launched to prevent young people from becoming excluded from the labour market might be in accordance with this requirement. Moreover, the prohibition of discrimination laid down in the Non-Discrimination Act does not apply to the statutory age limits for receiving pensions and disability benefits.
Example: Age discrimination in the recruitment of special jaeger non-commissioned officers
The Helsinki Court of Appeal sentenced the Finnish Defence Forces for age discrimination in the recruitment of a special jaeger non-commissioned officer. The court had to decide whether an applicant had been discriminated against when not selected to the temporary post of a special jaeger non-commissioned officer despite having the required qualifications. The applicant had previously worked in a similar position, but at the age of 33, was not chosen for the position due to the age. Special jaeger non-commissioned officers are recruited for their posts for a fixed term of five years. The Court of Appeal found that the tasks of a special jaeger non-commissioned officer require exceptional physical ability that can only be expected from a young person. However, the operational capacity of the special jaeger unit had been ensured through the use of fixed-term contracts and demanding physical tests. Moreover, the age criterion had not been applied consistently or systematically.