Equality and discrimination in employment

Everyone has the right to equal treatment in working life. Discrimination in employment limits people’s rights and opportunities to participate in working life, and it also harms our whole society with regard to efficiency and solidarity.

The Non-Discrimination Act was amended on 1 June 2023, extending the mandate of the Non-Discrimination Ombudsman in working life. The Ombudsman now has the mandate to monitor compliance with the Non-Discrimination Act also in individual cases of discrimination in working life.

The Non-Discrimination Ombudsman monitors compliance with the Non-Discrimination Act and promotes equality in working life. The Non-Discrimination Ombudsman also provides guidance in matters involving discrimination in working life. The Ombudsman's powers are parallel with those of the occupational safety and health authorities. You can read more about the methods available for the Non-Discrimination Ombudsman to respond to discrimination on the tackling discrimination page.

What is discrimination in working life?

Employment discrimination means discrimination in working life, job seeking, hiring employees or terminating employment. Discrimination in employment can occur in different ways, such as when:

  • a person is not invited to a job interview, because their name differs from a name typically considered Finnish;
  • an employer hires a younger employee in place of an older, clearly more qualified person; 
  • a member of a minority experiences harassment by their colleagues and the employer does not take action to stop the harassment after being informed of it;
  • reasonable accommodations required by an employee with a disability are not implemented. 

Discrimination is prohibited during the recruitment process, in pay and other terms of employment, and in the granting of employee benefits. No discrimination may occur during the employment relationship, either, such as distributing duties or training opportunities on discriminatory grounds. Terminating employment on discriminatory grounds also constitutes discrimination prohibited under the Non-Discrimination Act. An employer may not terminate an employment contract on discriminatory grounds even during the trial period. 

The Non-Discrimination Act prohibits discriminatory job advertisements. This means that the job advertisement cannot include unjustified requirements related to for example age or other personal characteristics specified in the Non-Discrimination Act. 

The employer must also take the needs of job applicants and employees with disabilities into account by implementing accommodations in the work environment. In addition, the employer has a responsibility to address any harassment occurring at the workplace.

Different treatment in working life may be allowed on certain conditions

The different treatment of people in hiring and employment relationships 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. 

Objectives related to employment policy or labour market motivation can also be justified, even if it includes an age limit or is based on the place of residence of the person. However, the treatment must also be objectively and appropriately justified in those cases. Employment campaigns aiming to prevent the exclusion of young people in the labour market is one example of such actions. The prohibition of discrimination in the Non-Discrimination Act does not apply to the age limits specified for qualifying for particular pension or disability benefits, either. 

Positive action in working life 

Positive action is permitted if it is intended to promote de facto equality or prevent or remove the disadvantages attributable to discrimination. For example, positive action can be applied to recruitment to increase de facto equality and prevent disadvantages attributable to discrimination. Such action must be systematic and decided in advance, and it must be stated in the job advertisement. For more information, please see the "Positive action" page.

Every employer must promote equality

Employers have a duty to promote equality. If an employer regularly employs at least 30 people, the employer is obliged to draw up an equality promotion plan. 

Every employer is required to assess the realisation of equality at the workplace. This assessment must be made with regard to all the grounds for discrimination referred to in the Non-Discrimination Act. The realisation of equality at the workplace can be determined with, for example, personnel surveys or by reviewing workplace practices from the perspective of equality. The realisation of equality must also be assessed in recruitment. Based on its assessment, the employer then decides on the measures needed for preventing discrimination and promoting equality. 

An employer that regularly employs at least 30 persons must have an equality promotion plan setting out the measures required to promote equality. The plan must include a report on the equality assessment's conclusions. Such measures and their effectiveness must be discussed with the personnel or their representatives. For more information on equality promotion planning, please see the "Equality planning" page.

The employer is responsible for ensuring non-discrimination at the workplace and in recruitment

As an employer, you are responsible for ensuring that job applicants are not discriminated against in recruitment, and that those who are already employed are not discriminated against during or after employment. In addition to the non-discrimination legislation, employers must also be aware of the other legislation regulating working life that may also be important for compliance with the principle of equal treatment. You can read more about the legislation on yhdenvertaisuus.fi website and on the website of Occupational Safety and Health authority.

The Non-Discrimination Act gives discrimination victims the right to compensation from the party guilty of discrimination. The Non-Discrimination Ombudsman can help with investigating discrimination in working life and reaching a settlement. If necessary, the discrimination victim can bring action in the District Court. In matters involving recruitment, action must be brought within one year of the passed-over employee being informed of the recruitment decision. In other cases, the time limit for bringing action is two years from the discriminatory conduct or violation of the prohibition of victimisation. A representative of the employer that is guilty of discrimination may also be convicted of work discrimination.  

An employer is obligated to treat its employees equally

If the different treatment of an employee is not due to a grounds for discrimination prohibited under the Non-Discrimination Act, the practice may not constitute discrimination in violation of the Non-Discrimination Act. Such conduct may then constitute unequal treatment of employees. According to the Employment Contracts Act, an employer must treat all employees equally, unless deviating from this is justified in view of the duties and position of the employees. 

The Non-Discrimination Ombudsman does not have the power to monitor compliance with the Employment Contracts Act. Therefore, the Non-Discrimination Ombudsman cannot intervene in cases where the unequal treatment of employees is due to some other factor than one of the grounds for discrimination referred to in the Non-Discrimination Act. In such cases, you can contact the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.