Skip to content
Home » Guide to working life » Occupational health and safety » Equality in the workplace
Last updated: 15.06.2023

Promote equality – no discrimination

The Non-discrimination Act prohibits discrimination in the workplace and requires employers to systematically promote equality. The obligation to promote equality applies to all employers, including small enterprises.

All employers must actively promote the equality of their workers and prevent discrimination in the workplace.

Any employer who regularly employs more than 30 people must prepare a non-discrimination plan. The plan may form part of another plan such as the equality plan, occupational safety and health action plan, or the personnel and training plan.

The employer must

  • assess the state of discrimination in the workplace
  • improve the working conditions according to needs
  • develop non-discriminatory methods for recruitment and other decisions concerning the workforce.

The measures to promote equality must be proportional to and effective and appropriate for the operating environment, resources, and other conditions. The employer must carry out the planning, execution, and monitoring of the promotional measures in cooperation with the workers or their representatives, no matter the size of the business.

Discrimination is prohibited by the Act on Equality between Women and Men and the Non-discrimination Act

The Non-discrimination Act (pdf) (1325/2014) prohibits discrimination based on age, origin, nationality, language, religion, beliefs, opinions, political activity, trade union activity, family relationships, state of health, disability, sexual orientation, or other personal characteristics. The Act on Equality between Women and Men (pdf) (609/1986) establishes gender equality and prohibits discrimination based on gender.

By law, it is discriminatory to disadvantage people who are otherwise comparable for prohibited reasons without special justification (oikeuttamisperuste, justifying grounds). Discrimination may also target the family and friends of the person being discriminated against – this is called discrimination by association (läheissyrjintä). Discrimination may be based on a mistaken assumption.

Discriminatory job advertisements are also prohibited. Employers are not allowed to require job applicants to be of a certain age or nationality.

Employers who discriminate may be legally required to pay compensation. If they are found guilty of a crime, they may be ordered to pay a fine.

Justifying grounds are legal exceptions

Certain justifying grounds exist that allow employers to treat workers in different ways. Different treatment is not considered discrimination when it is based on a legal exception, its objective is acceptable, and the measures taken to reach the objective are proportional.

One example of justifying grounds is “positive discrimination” (positiivinen erityiskohtelu). This refers to decisions made by the employer in cooperation with the workers to improve the situation of a group by favouring them in recruitment, for example. The positive discrimination measures should be stated clearly in the equality plan.

Different treatment according to age or place of residence is also acceptable if the measures are based on labour policy or the age limits of pension benefits or disability benefits.

If you experience discrimination

If you suspect that you have experienced discrimination or retaliation (unfavourable treatment because you invoked the Non-discrimination Act), you must inform your employer of why you suspect discrimination. Your employer must then prove that they have not violated the prohibition on discrimination. If your employer refuses to justify themselves or their justification is unconvincing, contact your union representative or PAM.

Discrimination in the workplace is supervised by the occupational health and safety authorities in cooperation with the Non-discrimination Ombudsman.

National authorities supervise company compliance with the Non-discrimination Act

General compliance with the Non-discrimination Act is supervised by the Non-discrimination Ombudsman and the National Non-discrimination and Equality Tribunal, and companies are supervised by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

You should contact the office of the Non-discrimination Ombudsman if you suspect unequal treatment.

Further reading

Useful links