Contact information 

Please notice that PAM and Unemployment Fund helplines are experiencing high call volumes especially in the morning. Answers to many questions is found on our web site.

Membership services

Members' service 030 100 630 is open Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from  10 am to 2 pm.

Employment advice

030 100 625  weekdays 10 am to 2 pm

Unemployment benefit advice 
020 690 211 weekdays 10 am to 2 pm

Work contract - 27.01.2020 klo 15.40

Dismissal of five cleaners resulted in victory after a court case lasting over four years

All the employees had been working for the company for some time. During that period, the employees had cleaned at various locations for the firm, and they had never received a warning for anything. Illustration: Anja Reponen

A dispute between SOL Palvelut Oy and five employees over working hours and unlawful termination of employment contracts went to court. Four years later it ended in victory for the employees. The long legal process has left its mark.

We have to turn the clock back to an autumn afternoon in 2015. SOL Palvelut Oy asks five employees with foreign backgrounds to come its office in Vaasa. The employees, who were cleaners, are called in one by one to see the employer’s representative and are told that their contract is being terminated and that they have to sign a termination notice and hand over their keys.

“The employer terminates five employees’ employment contracts, claiming that they have falsified their working hours entries”, says lawyer Mika Ojanen, who also represented the PAM members in court.

“We were fired on the spot with no warning. This is something that will stick in my mind for ever”, say three of the dismissed employees, Sarah*, James* and Mike*

Both men did cleaning work alongside their studies in Vaasa to become telecommunications engineers. One of them had worked for the same company for seven years and the other five years. For the third worker, Sarah*, SOL Palvelut Oy, was the first ever employer in Finland.

“To me personally, the dismissal was a traumatic experience as I had just found out that I was pregnant. How would I now care for my unborn child”, Sarah says.

Prior to this moment, the employer had had no cause for complaint with their work or for any other reason. So termination of employment came as a complete surprise to them.

James mentions that he had managed to bring in new customers for his previous supervisor, who was satisfied with his work. He says at some point the company changed the supervisor and then things went downhill.

“I was disappointed, because I thought the employer wasn’t interested in our commitment and what we had achieved after working for them for so long”, says Mike.

“Personally I didn’t know enough about the rules on ending employment. But luckily I had joined the trade union before I started cleaning. That encouraged us to go to PAM and ask for help”, says James.

Mike was also a long-time PAM member, so they jointly contacted the Vaasa regional office and that got the ball rolling.

Sarah agrees and adds:

“The truth is most foreigners working here are scared to complain about issues like dismissal or wrong pay because of the fear of consequences. We always have to think carefully about where to get a job, how we can pay our bills and other questions in connexion to livelihood”, she says.

Shortcomings in working time reporting practices

The employer's first claim for dismissal was the workers’ falsification of time records.  The court examined the working hours entries and access records and the employer’s deficient notification procedure. They were clearly deficient on the part of the employer.

“For years, employees had put down their hours on different slips, just noting the day and the number of hours. There were no starting or finishing times. The employer had paid our wages based on these, and for some of the slips had been paying wages for years”, says lawyer Mika Ojanen.

Another claim put forward in court by the employer was that employees had neglected to use access cards showing the “correct” working time. Working hours entries and access records were compared. 

“The fact was that in many cleaning locations no key cards were used at all. In some places the door was opened for the cleaners, or if there were two workers, no key card was needed, and many places were freely accessible. And nobody had checked whether access cards were used even to record working hours”, Ojanen points out.

In its five rulings, the court found that the company had not demonstrated that it had acted in the use of access cards or time stamps such that the plaintiffs had knowingly contravened instructions. The company had not demonstrated that the plaintiffs had knowingly contravened the employer’s instructions regarding notification of working hours.

According to the lawyer, there has to be a clear practice on working time stamps, because these affect many things. 

”If the practice is set out clearly, and an employee does not follow it, they can get a warning. If the employer does not have a proper system, it’s also not clear when evening and other supplements have to be paid”.

Over the years employees doing the work had been advised to write down the hours booked or the hours worked. The employer had not provided any official form for entering working hours. This had been enough up till then.

“The key was left somewhere, and we were told to go to the place and do the work. So being told we should have entered our working hours differently came out of the blue”, is how they describe the situation.

“As well as this we were all astonished that the company fired five employees with foreign backgrounds at the same time and for the same reason. It appeared pre-meditated and as if they were just looking for a scapegoat”.

Ojanen considers it important that the employees had been working for the company for some time. The employees’ careers varied from 1.5 to 7 years. During that period the employees had cleaned at various locations for the firm, and they had never received a warning for anything. 

“If all of a sudden employees are told you are cheats and have been falsifying working hours entries, that’s quite a blow”.

 “It’s quite rare for an employer to suddenly come out and say there are lots of cheats in this firm, says the lawyer”.  

“The employees had a long working history. If someone has been working for you for years with no complaints, if there is an issue it should be handled delicately and first tell the employee where the problem lies”, he adds.

The plaintiffs had not had a written notice or warning for supposedly contravening their contractual obligations. Therefore, the court found that the defendant did not even have grounds under Chapter 7, 2 of the Working Contracts Act to terminate the plaintiffs’ employment contracts.

Happy end to a long and harrowing court case 

Taking a dispute to court can take a surprisingly long time. It can be frustrating for a member when there’s no guarantee how long it will take or what the outcome will be. Sarah, James and Mike realised this, and for them the road to victory was long and exhausting. It has also left a mark. Mike could never have believed he end up in this situation with his employer.  

James adds:
“As an employee you never have any guarantees what can happen in working life, now we’ve learned the hard way.”

“If we hadn’t taken the case forward, this type of thing would happen again. That’s why my message to everyone, especially anyone in a cleaning job is: join a trade union”, Mike adds.

Sarah’s advice to other PAM members is: “Don’t be afraid to speak out and to act when you are being treated wrongly”.

“To employers, that hire workers, my message is, treat your workers with respect”.

This legal case took over four years. It got going at the end of 2016. The lawyer says that preparations and interviews of the employees took some time, and then the proceedings went to the District Court in May 2017. 

“The court session was supposed to be in November 2018, but because the trial took longer, the hearing was postponed to April 2019”, Ojanen explains, and adds that you often have to be prepared for delays.   

The Court of Appeal did not allow the District Court ruling to be reconsidered. In October 2019 the cleaning company appealed to the Supreme Court in all five matters. But the Supreme Court did not grant the company leave to appeal. 

Therefore, the previous rulings of the District Court of Ostrobothnia remained in force. The rulings state that the employer is required to pay the employees their wages for the period of notice and holiday compensation for a period equivalent to the period of notice plus interest. The payments, including late payment interest, legal fees and the employer’s agent’s fees came to well over 200,000 euros.

*The employees’ names in this story have been changed.

Did you know that as a PAM member you can get legal assistance and the services of the union’s lawyer? 

PAM advises members around 50,000 times a year in employment matters and solves around 1000 disputes. Most workplace disputes are about employees being underpaid. You can check the disputes page to see what sort of cases PAM has taken on for members.

If you are not yet a member, join here!  

Text:: Marie Sandberg-Chibani