Equality and discrimination in employment

Everyone has the right to equal treatment in working life. Discrimination in employment limits people’s rights and opportunities to participate in working life, and it also harms our whole society with regard to efficiency and solidarity.

The role of the Non-Discrimination Ombudsman in working life is to promote equality. The Ombudsman does not have the authority to intervene in individual cases of discrimination in employment.  The Ombudsman promotes equality in working life by means such as issuing recommendations and helping the authorities and private employers plan measures to promote equality. The occupational safety and health authorities of the Regional State Administrative Agency monitor compliance with the Non-Discrimination Act in individual cases of discrimination in employment. The occupational safety and health authorities are also charged with monitoring the employers’ obligation to promote equality. 

What is discrimination in working life?

Employment discrimination means discrimination in working life, job seeking, hiring employees or terminating employment. Discrimination in employment can occur in different ways, such as when:

  • a person is not invited to a job interview, because they do not have a typically Finnish name 
  • a member of a minority experiences harassment by customers or colleagues
  • reasonable accommodations required by an employee with a disability are not implemented. 

In situations that involve discrimination, the competence of a job applicant or an employee is defined by prejudice instead of experience and qualifications.

The employer is responsible for ensuring non-discrimination at the workplace and in recruitment

As an employer, you are responsible for ensuring that job applicants are not discriminated against in recruitment, and that those who are already employed are not discriminated against during or after employment. In addition to the non-discrimination legislation, employers must also be aware of the other legislation regulating working life that may also be important for compliance with the principle of equal treatment. You can read more about the legislation on yhdenvertaisuus.fi website and on the website of Occupational Safety and Health authority.

The Non-Discrimination Act prohibits discriminatory job advertisements. This means that the job advertisement cannot include unjustified requirements related to for example age or other personal characteristics specified in the Non-Discrimination Act. Discrimination is also prohibited in the selection process as well as concerning wages and other benefits. 

No discrimination may occur during the employment relationship, either, such as failing to distribute duties or training opportunities on equal grounds. The employer must also take the needs of job applicants and employees with disabilities into account by implementing accommodations in the work environment. In addition, the employer has a responsibility to address any harassment occurring at the workplace. Read more on our site rights of people with disabilities.

Employers have a duty to promote equality. If an employer regularly employs at least 30 people, the employer is obliged to draw up an equality promotion plan. 

Positive action can be implemented in hiring in order to increase de facto equality and prevent disadvantages caused by discrimination. It must be systematic and decided in advance, and it must also be stated already in the job advertisement. Read more on our site positive action.

Different treatment in working life may be allowed on certain conditions

The different treatment of people in hiring and employment relationships is allowed on certain conditions. In that case, the different treatment must be based on the nature of the tasks and the actual and critical requirements on carrying them out. The different treatment must also be proportional. Therefore, in certain situations the personal characteristics of a person can be used as a criterion for hiring, for instance.

  • For example, a registered religious community may require its employees to subscribe to a certain religion or conviction, if this is justified based on the nature of the work and carrying it out. 

Objectives related to employment policy or labour market motivation can also be justified, even if it includes an age limit or is based on the place of residence of the person. However, the treatment must also be objectively and appropriately justified in those cases. Employment campaigns aiming to prevent the exclusion of young people in the labour market is one example of such actions. The prohibition of discrimination in the Non-Discrimination Act does not apply to the age limits specified for qualifying for particular pension or disability benefits, either. 

Indirect discrimination and harassment in working life 

Indirect discrimination refers to an apparently neutral rule, criterion or practice that actually puts a person at a disadvantage compared with others on the grounds of personal characteristics. For example, specific requirements on dress must be justified in order to be acceptable. The employer must also take the needs of job applicants and employees with disabilities into account by implementing accommodations in the work environment. 

Indirect discrimination may also manifest in setting requirements for applicants that are not relevant to the job when hiring people, such as an employer requiring perfect Finnish skills from job applicants, even if they are not necessary to do the job. If the requirement on language skills is not founded on genuine and determining requirements concerning the type of occupational tasks in question and their performance, it constitutes discrimination, because the requirement may place people such as immigrants at a disadvantage.

In addition, employers have an obligation to address harassment at the workplace. If you face harassment, contact your superior first. If contacting your superior does not help, contact the occupational safety and health representative or shop steward of the workplace. If necessary, you can contact the occupational safety and health authorities of the Regional State Administrative Agencies that monitor discrimination in working life.

An employee that becomes the target of discrimination can claim compensation from the employer. A representative of the employer that is guilty of discrimination may also receive a sentence under criminal law.  

Have you experienced discrimination in working life?

You can find the instructions on how to act on the website of the occupational safety and health authorities.