The purpose of the Non-Discrimination Act is to promote equality and to prevent discrimination as well as to enhance the protection provided by law to those who have been discriminated against.
Under the Act, no one may be discriminated against on the basis of age, origin, nationality, language, religion, belief, opinion, political activity, trade union activity, family relationships, state of health, disability, sexual orientation or other personal characteristics.
The Act states that equality in working life must be promoted especially in recruitment and in the workplace in terms of e.g. the working conditions, trainings and pay and other benefits.
Most of the amendments of the partial reform of the Non-Discrimination Act entered into force on 1 June 2023.
The amendments to the Act enhance measures to address discrimination, in particular, and clarify the process of promoting equality in the workplace. The employer is required to assess the realisation of equality with regard to all the grounds for discrimination, namely: age, origin, nationality, language, religion, belief, opinion, political activity, trade union activity, family relationships, state of health, disability, sexual orientation or other personal characteristic.
However, the Act does not specify the concrete measures that are required under the employer’s duty to promote equality. The nature and extent of the necessary measures depend on the needs of the workplace, but also on the available resources.
Realisation of equality must be assessed already in recruitment
Employers must assess the state of equality also in recruitment, throughout the recruitment process. Employers can examine the realisation of equality in recruitment by reviewing the recruitment practices of the workplace, for instance.
The purpose is to identify potential problems in the practices with regards to equality, such as procedures that exclude a particular group or a bias or prejudice that affects recruitment.
The employer’s duty to draw up an equality promotion plan was also specified.
An employer who regularly employs at least 30 persons must have a plan in place for the promotion of equality. According to the amended Act, the equality plan must also include a report on the conclusions of the equality assessment. In addition to the conclusions, the report should include a description of how these conclusions have been reached. However, the reform concerning the contents of the equality plan does not enter into force until 1 June 2025.
Legal protection of employees improved
The Non-Discrimination Ombudsman also supervises compliance with the Non-Discrimination Act in work life.
The changes to the Non-Discrimination Act improved the legal protection of employees, because the mandate of the Non-Discrimination Ombudsman in work life was expanded to include compliance with the Act also in individual cases of discrimination. Now both the Non-Discrimination Ombudsman and the occupational safety and health authority have a mandate to supervise compliance with the Non-Discrimination Act in work life.
This means that in addition to the occupational safety and health authority, you can contact the Non-Discrimination Ombudsman if you have experienced discrimination in work life or suspect such discrimination.
The Non-Discrimination Ombudsman may issue a reasoned opinion in cases regarding the Non-Discrimination Act. However, the opinion issued by the Ombudsman is not a legally binding decision.
In connection with the amendments to the Act, the supervisory mandate of the occupational safety and health authority was also clarified, and the occupational safety and health authority was given the possibility to issue an improvement notice concerning the duty of the employer to assess and promote equality.
A person who suspects discrimination may, having received a reasoned opinion from the Non-Discrimination Ombudsman, also bring the matter to be handled by the occupational safety and health authority, in which case the occupational safety and health authority may issue, for example, written advice or an improvement notice or an obligation to rectify or remove the state of affairs that is in violation of the prohibition of discrimination.
If necessary, the occupational safety and health authority may obligate the employer to rectify the state of affairs that is in violation with the provisions within a time limit prescribed by the authority, in addition to which the occupational safety and health authority may impose a conditional fine to enforce the obligation.
Reasonable adjustments for a person with disabilities
According to the Non-Discrimination Act, an employer must make the necessary reasonable adjustments in its operations for a person with disabilities to be able, equally with others, to gain access to work, to perform their duties and to advance in their career.
The amendment to the Act also clarified the provisions concerning reasonable adjustments for employees with disabilities. The needs of the disabled person are the primary basis for assessing adjustments, meaning that the priority is on identifying the due adjustments that are necessary in the situation at hand for employing a disabled person or for ensuring that they can continue working. After this, an assessment is made as to whether these adjustments are reasonable for the employer to make, taking into account the size and financial position of the employer, the nature and extent of its activities as well as the costs of the adjustments and the support available.
The author works as a lawyer at TEK.