Finland: New Non-Discrimination Act obliges employers to promote equality

14 January 2015

The updated Finnish Non-Discrimination Act came into force on 1 January 2015. The Act on Equality between Women and Men has also been amended.

It is important for the employers to make sure that their procedures and mandatory plans are up-to-date, as the new legislation requires the employer to actively promote and secure equal treatment.  In this article we point out the most significant reforms, e.g. the updated grounds of discrimination and the obligation to draw up a new plan to promote equality. Because the new Act is more sensitive to being contested, especially the managers should be familiar with its content.

The most significant updates that concern employers are the following:

1. The Non-Discrimination Act’s scope

The scope of the Act is very broad as it covers all public and private activities with the exception of private and family life and the right to practise religion. Thus, the Act covers all workplace activities, unless the activity is clearly of a private nature.

2. Employer’s obligation to promote equality in the workplace

If the number of personnel working for an employer on a regular basis is at least 30, the employer must draw up a plan of all necessary actions to promote equality as extensively as required by the nature of the work. The equality plan does not have a specified form and it can be drawn up as a separate plan or it can be incorporated into some other mandatory workplace plan, e.g. the gender equality plan (see below).

The plan includes an assessment of equality in the workplace and it is designed to improve working conditions and the recruitment process. The actions that promote equality and their effectiveness should be discussed with the employer's personnel or with their representatives.  A personnel representative, who has participated in the planning of the equality actions, has the right to know what measures the employer has taken to promote equality in the workplace.

3. Broader grounds of discrimination

The protection against discrimination is equal regardless of the reason for discrimination. The Act includes provisions on discrimination of the closely related and of presumptive discrimination. Discrimination is thus forbidden regardless of whether it concerns an assumption or a fact about a person or someone closely related to them, for example  a family member.

Rejection of reasonable adjustments to ensure equal treatment of disabled people is discrimination. When assessing what is reasonable, the costs of the adjustment and the size of the company will be taken into account.

4. Compensation

The scope of application of compensation was extended. From now on, those who have been discriminated against are entitled to compensation regardless of the grounds of discrimination. Further, there are no longer maximum caps on compensation. However, the amount should be assessed in light of the seriousness of the discrimination.

5. The most significant renewals of the Act on Equality between Women and Men ("Equality Act")

Provisions on prohibition of discrimination based on gender identity or gender expression were added to the Equality Act. Further, the gender equality plan and pay survey obligation were clarified. If the number of personnel working for the employer on a regular basis is at least 30, the employer must draw up a gender equality plan at least every other year.

When agreed internally, the pay survey, a significant part of the gender equality plan, can be drawn up every third year, if the gender equality plan in other respects is drawn up annually. The pay survey's purpose is to ensure that there are no groundless pay differences between men and women who work for the same employer, and whose jobs are similar or at the same competence level. If there is no acceptable reason for the pay difference, the employer should take measures to correct the fault.

Authors