Discrimination is treating one person less favourably than others on the basis of a personal characteristic. All human beings are entitled to equal treatment, and discrimination is prohibited by many of our national laws, the Non-discrimination Act, the Criminal Code, as well as international human rights conventions. 

Under the Non-Discrimination Act, no one may be discriminated against on the basis of their age, origin, nationality, language, religion, belief, opinion, political activity, trade union activity, family relationships, state of health, disability, sexual orientation or other personal characteristics. Read more on our page grounds for discrimination.

According to the Non-discrimination Act, the discrimination may be direct or indirect, or it may consist of things like refusing reasonable accommodations from people with disabilities. The Non-discrimination Act also prohibits harassment and order or instruction to discriminate. The prohibition of discrimination also includes discrimination based on assumption as well as discrimination by association.  Therefore placing a person in a disadvantageous position because that person is assumed to be a member of a minority or a person close to a member of a minority or a disabled person, such as a family member, relative or friend, may also constitute prohibited discrimination.

The prohibition of discrimination by the Non-discrimination Act is applied broadly. This means that it covers all private and public activities by default. The Act does not, however, apply to activities pertaining to private or family life or the practising of religion

What constitutes discrimination?

Discrimination means that one person is treated worse than others in a comparable situation because of one or more personal characteristics of that person. For instance, if a waiter refuses to serve a person because of that person’s ethnic origin, it constitutes illegal discrimination. 

Forms of discrimination

What is not discrimination?

Treating individuals differently does not always constitute discrimination. In certain situations, different treatment can be justified, even if it is based on prohibited grounds for discrimination. The grounds for justified different treatment are provided for in the Non-discrimination Act. 

Poor or even inappropriate treatment does not necessarily constitute discrimination. In order for the unfavourable treatment to constitute discrimination, it must be due to prohibited grounds for discrimination. For example, being inappropriately treated by a provider of goods or services or by an official does not necessarily constitute discrimination, especially if everyone is treated similarly.

Justifications for different treatment

Different treatment is not discrimination, if the treatment has an acceptable objective in terms of fundamental and human rights and the measures to attain the objective are proportionate. Different treatment must also be provided for in legislation, if it for example includes the use of public power or different treatment based on ethnic origin. For instance, denying entry to a licensed restaurant to persons under 18 years of age is not discrimination, because this is provided for by law and has an aim that is acceptable with regard to fundamental and human rights.

Different treatment in hiring and employment

Different treatment in hiring and employment 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. This means that for example the Evangelical Lutheran Church can require that its priests are members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. It is also possible, for instance, to hire a member of an ethnic minority or sexual minority as an employee for an organisation promoting the rights of such minorities.

Different treatment based on age or place of residence is also permitted, if that treatment has an employment policy or labour market motivation. This may mean, for example, employment campaigns targeted at young people, measures to lengthen the career of aged employees, or offering jobs to the residents of a specific area. 

Positive action

Positive action means measures taken in order to improve the status and circumstances of a specific group of people in order to ensure de facto equality. Positive action does not constitute illegal discrimination.

Positive action is allowable if its purpose is to promote actual equality or to prevent or eliminate disadvantages caused by discrimination. Positive action can include, for instance, admission quota at educational institutions for socially disadvantaged groups or groups at risk of discrimination. Read more on our positive action website.