Harassment at the workplace

Harassment at the workplace constitutes prohibited discrimination

Harassment constitutes discrimination prohibited by the Non-discrimination Act. Harassment is also prohibited at the workplace. The Non-Discrimination Ombudsman monitors compliance with the Non-Discrimination Act in working life also concerning harassment and you can contact the Non-Discrimination Ombudsman if you experience harassment at the workplace. 

According to the Non-Discrimination Act, behaviour in the work community that deliberately or de facto infringes the dignity of a person or a group of people is harassment. Harassment constitutes discrimination prohibited by the Non-discrimination Act:

  • if the infringing behaviour is related to one of the grounds for discrimination in the Non-Discrimination Act and
  • the behaviour creates a degrading or humiliating, intimidating, hostile or offensive environment related to the grounds for discrimination towards the person or group of people.

You can find more information on harassment on our web page on harassment.

What does harassment in working life mean?

Harassment may involve, for instance, infringing speech, e-mail messages, expressions, gestures, putting inappropriate material on display or other kinds of communication. 

A degrading, humiliating or intimidating, hostile or offensive environment may be created by for example making statements that infringe human dignity or otherwise bullying the person or persons targeted by the harassment. For example, bullying or joking that is homophobic or hostile towards people with disabilities may create a degrading environment at the workplace that meets the definition of harassment. Such an environment may affect not only the opportunities of the person who has experienced harassment to be a part of the work community, but also the work community itself in a broader sense. A degrading environment may also make other employees feel unsafe in addition to the person directly targeted by the harassment.

For example, displaying racist material on the public premises of a provider of goods or services may infringe the human dignity of a person visiting as a customer in such a way that the act may be considered harassment. A similar situation may occur at a workplace, if racist material is displayed on the employer's premises, such as the break room. Jokes degrading sexual minorities at the coffee table at the workplace, for instance, may also meet the definitional elements of harassment. 

It is possible to be guilty of harassment even without the intent to infringe. Both harassment carried out with the intent to infringe as well as actions that are de facto infringing constitute prohibited harassment. 

The employer has a responsibility to address and prevent harassment at the workplace

The employer has a responsibility to address any harassment occurring at the workplace when the employer is informed about it. The employer may find out about the issue from the person targeted by the harassment, as well as in other ways. The obligation to address the matter means that the employer must actively take measures to eliminate the harassment. Depending on the situation, this may involve hearing and instructing the parties, issuing a warning to the party guilty of harassment, and as the final option, terminating the employment relationship of the party guilty of harassment, if the conditions of the Employment Contracts Act are met. 

Neglecting the duty to take the available measures to eliminate harassment means that the employer is guilty of discrimination. In that case, compensation for discrimination may be demanded from the employer.

Employers have a duty to promote equality at the workplace in a goal-oriented manner. Taking account of the needs of the workplace, the employer must develop the working conditions and practices at the workplace. Preventing harassment and maintaining operating methods that make it possible to address harassment are a part of the employer's obligation to promote equality.

Other prohibitions of harassment in working life

Sexual and gender-based harassment are prohibited by the Act on Equality between Women and Men (Equality Act). The Ombudsman for Equality monitors compliance with the Equality Act. 
Provisions on harassment at work that causes harm or danger to the health of the employee and other inappropriate treatment as well as the duty of the employer to address the situation can be found in the Work Safety Act. Occupational safety and health authorities monitor compliance with the Work Safety Act. Some situations may constitute both harassment in violation of the Equality Act as well as harassment referred to in the Work Safety Act at the same time.