Government proposal for a new act on discrimination
The Swedish government has recently introduced a bill (2007/08:95) on a new act on discrimination. According to the proposal, the new act will replace the seven different acts on discrimination currently in effect. The new act is expected to come into force on 1 January 2009.
At present the Swedish legislation against discrimination comprise seven different acts, of which four are addressing various forms of discrimination in the workplace. Briefly explained, an employer is prohibited to discriminate against an employee or a job applicant on grounds of sex, ethnic origin, disability, religion or belief or sexual orientation. In order to ensure the compliance with the anti discrimination legislation there are four public representatives (Ombudsmen), one for each ground of discrimination, religion or belief excepted.
According to the proposal, all present grounds of discrimination will remain. However, two new grounds of discrimination will be added; age and gender exceeding identity or expression. The latter is primarily aimed at the protection of transsexual individuals. The prohibition to discriminate on the grounds mentioned shall, in principle, apply in all areas of society. The exception relates to age, where the prohibition will only comprise educational activities and the working life. Unlike the current legislation, the new act will also apply with respect to trainees and hired labour.
A new public body will be established in order to supervise the compliance of the act; the Discrimination Ombudsman, which will replace the four current public representatives.
Effect on the employer
By replacing seven different acts on discrimination with one, it will be easier for the employer to form an overall picture with respect to his obligations in this regard. However, it also remains to be seen whether the adding of age as a ground of discrimination will cause any difficulties in practice.
Pregnant police officers were entitled to keep their reduction in working hours
Four female police officers were, during different periods in 2003-2006 redeployed from field duty to office duty due to pregnancy. The reason for the redeployments was either that the employee had been prohibited (in accordance with a regulation issued according to chapter 4, section 6 of the Swedish Work Environment Act (1977:1160)) to continue her field duties due to the risks involved or that she was unable to perform physically demanding duties. The consequence of the redeployments was that the employees got increased working hours, up to five and a half hour per week.
According to sections 18 and 19 of the Swedish Parental Leave Act (1995:584), a female employee who is expecting a child is entitled to be redeployed to other work while retaining her employment benefits provided that she is prohibited from or unable to continue her regular work on such reasons as stated above.
A dispute arose between the parties whether the redeployments, due to the increased working hours, were in breach of sections 18 and 19 of the Parental Leave Act. The employer argued that the working hours were not a benefit that was comprised by the concept “retaining her employment benefits” in the act.
The ruling of the Labour Court
The Labour Court laid down that not only cash benefits of different kinds but also paid leave is to be considered as an employment benefit pursuant to the Parental Leave Act. Having established that a reduction in working hours is a kind of paid leave, the Labour Court reached the conclusion that the employees’ reduction in working time constitutes such benefit they are entitled to retain after the redeployments.
The employees were awarded SEK 30 000 each in damages.