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Equality issues - 09.09.2020 klo 12.00

Recognise employment discrimination and act on it

Employment discrimination means being unduly treated worse than other employees for some discriminating reason. Photo: Gettyimages

If you have colleagues with a foreign background, are their wages lower than yours? Are older applicants always passed over in job searches? Recognise employment discrimination and act on it.

No matter whether you are young or old, whatever the colour of your skin, whether you are talkative or taciturn. Under the law everyone must be treated equally in working life.

Employment discrimination means being unduly treated worse than other employees for some discriminating reason.
Reasons for discrimination outlawed under the Non-discrimination Act include age, nationality, language, religion, beliefs, political activity, trade union activity, state of health or disability.

During Pride Week, PAM is also stressing that no-one must be treated differently or harassed at the workplace because of their sexual orientation.


According to a recent report, labour inspectorates were contacted around 500 times last year by employees about employment discrimination. Often these contacts were about employees wanting to know whether a particular situation was discriminatory or not. Based on monitoring requests, labour inspectors made 110 discrimination-related workplace inspections. In 38 of these, the employer was breaching non-discrimination rules.

Labour inspectors also made 600 workplace inspections of foreigners’ working conditions. Wage discrimination was found in 60 cases.

Year after year, state of health is the most common reason for employment discrimination experienced by employees. An employee might suspect for example that their sick leave was the real reason why they were made redundant rather than anyone else.

Even though suspected employment discrimination based on religion or sexual orientation comes to the authorities’ attention less often, that doesn’t mean discrimination isn’t taking place. Eva Lassander, an inspector specialising in discrimination at the Southern Finland Regional State Administrative Agency, says that employment discrimination easily goes undiscovered.

"It can be tricky to raise the issue while you are employed somewhere", Lassander says.
Around half of the discrimination reported to labour inspectorates has to do with termination of employment.


Help your co-workers!

The trade unions are also working to prevent employment discrimination.
"PAM’s regional offices negotiate with employers to put a stop to discriminatory practices. The ultimate step is to take discrimination cases to court", says PAM’s lawyer Suvi Vilches.

An example of flagrant discrimination in service sectors would be a company exploiting employees with a foreign background by underpaying them and undercutting working conditions. Often wage discrimination is made possible if employees don’t speak the language or don’t know Finnish legislation. If employment discrimination is exploitative, it could also be criminal.

Vilches encourages PAM members to help foreigners by contacting the union or the authorities if they suspect wage discrimination.
”You shouldn’t wait until a foreign colleague finds out how to take action themselves”, Vilches says.

Discrimination also exists in job searches 

It isn’t always easy to prove discrimination, even less to act on it. PAM’s working environment expert Erika Kähärä considers that for example rejecting older applicants for job opportunities amounts in practice to age discrimination. But this is hard to pinpoint, because an employer is unlikely to say that age was the reason why someone was turned down for a job.

If an employee suspects discrimination, they need to show a causal link for why they think they have been mistreated based on discrimination. This causal link could also be time-linked if for example someone’s employment is suddenly ended during a trial period when they say they are pregnant.

”The time link between reporting pregnancy and ending a trial period could lead one to assume there was discrimination”, Kähärä says.

Then the burden of proof is reversed, and it is up to the employer to show that it wasn’t discrimination.


Not everything that is unfair is discrimination 

Not everything that is unfair in working life is discrimination.  
”An employee might think they have been treated unfairly, but there is no basis for discrimination”, says Erika Kähärä at PAM.

If for example an employee gets unfavourable shifts or holiday dates, it might be down to bad management. It could be a case of discrimination if the employee has been landed with difficult holiday dates or shifts because they dared to speak out about working conditions. Then the discriminatory reason is so-called professional activity.

Discrimination is defined in the Non-discrimination Act and in the Act on Equality between Women and Men. 
An employer who infringes the ban on discrimination may be ordered to pay the employee compensation.

Employment discrimination can only be committed by an employer or an employer’s representative, not by a colleague, even if they are the one behaving badly. If an employee says for example that they find a colleague’s sexist jokes distressing, the employer must intervene. Sexual harassment, if the employer does not intervene, is discrimination.

”The moment an employee tells their supervisor that another colleague’s behaviour is distressing them, the supervisor is responsible for doing something about it ", Kähärä says.

She points out that all employers must actively promote equal treatment of employees. Workplaces with over 30 members of staff must also have equality plans.

What to do if you suspect work discrimination?

  • If possible, tell your employer that you are suffering from the situation and want the nasty behavior to end.
  • Contact the shop steward, PAM's employment counseling or the employment protection authorities (AVI) counseling phone, tel. 0295016620.

  • Justify the grounds on which you feel you have been discriminated against.