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Home » Guide to working life » Occupational health and safety » Harassment and inappropriate treatment
Last updated: 15.06.2023

Inappropriate treatment, harassment, and bullying

At work, there can be no tolerance for abuse, harassment, bullying, or any other inappropriate treatment. Inappropriate treatment may come from any member of the work community, but also the company’s customers and partners.

“Inappropriate treatment” at work is any behaviour or conduct that cannot be considered generally acceptable. In Finland, work communities often refer to it internally as bullying at work (työpaikkakiusaaminen). 

Any member of the work community may behave inappropriately, either alone or as part of a group. Both workers and supervisors may experience inappropriate treatment. Parties outside the work community may also behave inappropriately, including customers and partners. 

There are different forms of inappropriate treatment. The employer has a statutory obligation, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Act, to intervene as soon as possible after being informed of the situation. 

Harassment is a danger to health 

“Harassment” refers to inappropriate treatment that harms or will harm the health of the target. Typically, harassment takes the form of oppressing a person or group repeatedly over a long period of time.  

Among other things, the following may constitute harassment or other inappropriate treatment: 

  • unfairly criticising the characteristics, personality, or private affairs of a person 
  • belittling 
  • dismissiveness 
  • isolation 
  • threats and minor physical contact 
  • exceeding one’s authority as a supervisor 
  • changing mutually agreed upon terms unilaterally (without agreement of both parties) 
  • constant unjustified criticism of work performance 
  • unequal and unjustified distribution of work duties. 

In general, the first symptoms of long-term harassment are anxiety and psychosomatic symptoms (physical symptoms with psychological causes). If the situation is not resolved, it may worsen and lead to prolonged sick leave or even premature retirement. Harassment can poison the atmosphere at work and lower the well-being and productivity of all workers. 

What should I do if I experience harassment at work? 

If you are harassed by a fellow worker or supervisor, immediately let them know that you find their behaviour unacceptable. If you are afraid to talk to the person who harassed you, ask a worker representative (occupational safety representative or union representative) or another workmate to help you. Approach the harasser together and ask them to correct their behaviour.  

We recommend always having a witness with you when you ask someone to stop their harassment. The witness can testify that the harasser was made aware of their insulting behaviour. Any harassment thereafter will be provenly deliberate and wilful. 

Should the harasser continue in spite of your objections, you should inform them that you will bring the matter to your employer. You should notify your occupational safety representative and/or union representative as soon as possible. If you are a member of PAM, you can contact your regional PAM office for advice on how to raise and proceed with the issue in your workplace. 

If you are harassed by a customer, your supervisor must instruct you on how to let the customer know that their behaviour is unacceptable. 

Employers are responsible for ending harassment 

The employer or their supervisors who have the power to direct work are responsible for stopping any and all harassment at work. Your workplace should have a plan and instructions in place in case of harassment or bullying. They establish the necessary methods and tools for handling harassment, should it occur.  

The Occupational Safety and Health Act obligates everyone to avoid harassment and other inappropriate treatment. In addition, the supervisors of the workplace’s line organisation are responsible for correcting the poor conduct of their subordinates. If your supervisor proves ineffective at handling the matter, you must report it to their supervisor. 

Once a supervisor has been informed of harassment, the employer is responsible for resolving the matter. If instructions and advice are not enough to stop the harassment, the employer can take disciplinary measures within their right to manage and supervise work. 

Sometimes the harasser is the employer themselves. If the employer refuses to stop harassing their worker despite objections and the worker’s health is damaged, the employer may be charged with violating occupational health and safety. 

Harassment by customers 

The employer must respond to inappropriate treatment and harassment coming from their customers. Employers may not always have effective means from preventing bad behaviour from parties outside of the workplace, but these situations should be considered in advance, and the work community should prepare a plan for them. 

Workers must be aware of when and how they can inform customers that they find the customer’s behaviour unacceptable. A plan must be made for reporting and discussing these situations, and monitoring for excessive strain must be arranged, if necessary. The workers must know where they can get help. 

Online course for managing threatening customer encounters 

The Uhkaava asiakastilanne course (in Finnish) is a set of materials prepared by PAM with the Finnish Commerce Federation for independent study. The materials teach you how to handle and predict difficult situations with customers. You can find the materials here

Further reading  

Useful links: