The following are prohibited grounds for discrimination: age, origin, nationality, language, religion, belief, opinion, political activity, trade union activity, family relationships, state of health, disability, sexual orientation or other personal characteristics.

Discrimination may be

  • direct, meaning that a person, on the grounds of personal characteristics, is treated less favourably than another was treated, is treated or would be treated in a comparable situation – e.g. a foreign employee being paid less than a Finnish employee,
  • indirect, meaning that an apparently neutral rule, criterion or practice puts a person at a disadvantage compared with others on the grounds of personal characteristics – e.g. perfect command of Finnish is required at the hiring stage even if it is not essential for performing the work in question,
  • harassment, meaning the deliberate or de facto infringement of the dignity of a person through jokes that are racist or demeaning of sexual minorities or otherwise based on the prohibited grounds of discrimination, or other degrading or humiliating behaviour; for the employer not to take action to address such harassment at the workplace is also discrimination,
  • denial of reasonable accommodation, meaning that the employer refuses to make reasonable adjustments required for a disabled person to gain employment, perform his/her job duties and advance in his/her career equally with others, or
  • an instruction or order to discriminate against particular persons – e.g. an employer prohibiting an employee to hire a person belonging to a particular ethnic group.

Prohibition of victimisation

A person initiating or taking part in action to ensure equality must not be treated unfavourably or subjected to retaliatory measures. Retaliatory measures may include the employer imposing considerably closer scrutiny on the employee’s work performance after that employee has contacted the occupational safety and health authorities because of suspected discrimination.

What is not prohibited occupational discrimination?

The employer’s actions do not constitute discrimination if none of the prohibited grounds for discrimination specified by law apply to the employee or they have not influenced the employer’s actions in any way.

Moreover, not all actions based on the prohibited grounds for discrimination are unlawful discrimination. Different treatment of persons in working life does not constitute discrimination if it is based on the actual requirements of the job duties. Such treatment must, however, be proportionate in view of the aim, and the aim itself must be acceptable.

Also, different treatment on the basis of age or place of residence is justified if the treatment has an objectively and appropriately justified employment policy objective or an objective concerning the labour market, or if the different treatment is attributable to the age limits adopted for qualification for retirement or invalidity benefits.

Examples of situations where different treatment may be acceptable:

  • The employer does not hire a more experienced actor because of his advanced age. This represents different treatment of the older applicant in a hiring situation, but the action does not constitute prohibited discrimination, because the job in question is playing the role of a teenager in a stage play.
  • An employer may hire a Chinese applicant to create an appropriate ambience for a Chinese restaurant even if he/she is not the most qualified applicant.
  • An employee may be required to have a specific religious conviction in cases where the employee will be involved with people with that religious conviction in his/her work or will be required to act as a spokesperson for that religious community.
  • Terminating an employment relationship on the grounds of the employee’s health may be justified if the employee’s work capacity has been significantly diminished by illness and this cannot be regarded as temporary or transitory.
  • It is acceptable for a local authority as employer to offer summer jobs only to adolescents in its own municipality.
  • Employment campaigns intended to prevent the social exclusion of young people may involve justifiable different treatment on the basis of age.
  • The mandatory retirement age of 68 is not considered discriminatory in the legal practice of the European Court of Justice.
Proportionate different treatment that aims to promote de facto equality, or to prevent or remove the disadvantages attributable to discrimination, does not constitute discrimination. For instance, positive action in favour of persons considered to be in need of particular protection because of their origin, age or impaired work capacity is acceptable. However, measures involving such positive action must be proportionate to their aim.