General information on topic

The right of the employer to supervise the work of the employee is derived from the Employment Contracts Act and collective agreements.

In practice, the employer’s unilateral right of supervision is limited by the applicable collective agreement and the employee’s personal employment contract. For instance, working hours arrangements for the sector may be specified in quite some detail in the collective agreement, and the job duties of an individual employee may be described in the employment contract.

The employer’s right to direct is not unlimited. The employer cannot require an employee to act contrary to law or good conduct. For instance, an employee cannot be required to drive over the speed limit or to compromise good auditing practice when auditing accounts.

An employee can also not be required to perform work in which shortcomings in occupational safety and health put his/her life or health or those of other employees at risk. The employer is also required to treat employees equally and non-discriminatingly.

The employer is responsible for supervising work under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, but limitations to supervision are in place to protect employee privacy. For instance, there are restrictions on the handling of employees’ health information at the workplace and technological surveillance.

Employees are required to do their work diligently and to follow the employer’s instructions. Employees are also under a loyalty obligation, which includes the requirement not to disclose any information that might harm the employer and a prohibition on working for a competitor. 

If an employee neglects his/her job duties, the employer may issue a warning. Repeated negligence may constitute grounds for terminating the employment relationship.

 

Instructions for employee

As an employee, your principal obligations are diligence, loyalty and confidentiality:

  • do your work carefully and expediently,
  • follow instructions given to you by your employer about performing the work,
  • notify your supervisor of any defects you observe in the working conditions, structures, machinery, equipment, tools or protective equipment at the workplace, and
  • do not harm your employer for instance by disclosing commercial and professional secrets.

The terms and conditions of employment are agreed in the employment contract. It often contains the clause “other duties specified by the supervisor”. This provision extends the employer’s potential for changing your job duties unilaterally. It is not unlimited, however, since any new duties assigned to you must be duties consistent with the employer’s principal sphere of operations, and your professional skills and occupational safety issues must also be taken into account. Also, the employer cannot assign you to work in another town or city for an extended period of time on the basis of the above provision, although the employer is generally considered to have the right to assign an employee to a temporary posting in another location within the same commuting area.

Employee privacy is protected by law

As an employee, you are entitled to the privacy of your personal information. Your employer may request data such as your credit information or drug test certificate only in certain cases specified by law. There are also limitations on technological surveillance of employees at the workplace and the handling of health information. Further information on the protection of privacy is available on the subpages.

Under the loyalty obligation, an employee must not disclose to any third parties any information that might harm the employer.

The loyalty obligation is binding upon the employee

You must not disclose any commercial or professional secrets of your employer or any other information concerning the employer’s business operations if such disclosure could cause financial damage to the employer. The general principle is that the higher your position in the company, the more broadly you should understand the concept of confidential information. To avoid confusion, you may ask your employer exactly what information constitutes commercial secrets. There may be provisions on confidentiality in your employment contract or in the company’s guidelines.

Issuing a warning comes under the employer's right to direct

If you make a mistake in your work or neglect your job duties, your supervisor may reprimand you or issue an advisory, depending on the practices at your workplace. If it is unclear to you what your mistake or negligence was, ask your supervisor to explain. If the mistake or negligence was significant, your employer may issue you a warning. You have the chance to improve your work after receiving a warning. If you feel that you have received a warning without justification, submit a written response to your employer, explaining why you disagree.

Repeated mistakes or negligence may lead to your employment relationship being terminated. In the case of such gross misconduct that the employer cannot reasonably be expected to uphold the employment relationship, an employement contract may be terminated even after a single such incident.

 

Instructions for employer

The employer must treat employees equally and fairly.

The employer’s right to direct principaly involves determining:

  • what an employee does (content of work),
  • how an employee performs the work (work method);
  • when the work is done (working hours), and
  • where the work is done (workplace).

The employer is also responsible for monitoring that employees follow the instructions given concerning the work. Even if an employee works alone, or without continuous supervision, or not on the employer’s premises, the employee’s work must be supervised, because responsibility for occupational safety and health always rests with the employer.

The employer may perform work supervision through technological surveillance, e.g. with the aid of CCTV, online monitoring or GPS systems. However, the employer must respect employee privacy. If technological surveillance is undertaken, employees must be told why it is being done, when it is being done, how it is being done, what data are being collected and under what circumstances the recorded data would be used.

In the interests of employee privacy, there are separate provisions in law on the handling of employees’ health information, on referring employees to drug tests and on requesting employees' credit details.

A warning should be issued in writing

A negligent employee may be issued a warning, following which the employee must be given an opportunity to improve his/her performance.

There are no formal requirements for a warning. If an employment relationship is terminated because of repeated negligence, the employer must be able to show that a warning had been issued.

Usually a warning is issued in writing and the employee is asked to countersign it. Signing does not mean that the employee accepts the warning; it is merely acknowledgement of receipt. If the warning is issued verbally, the employer should ensure that there is a third person present who can testify to the fact later.

An employee receiving a warning has an opportunity to improve his/her performance

The warning must indicate the negligence or misconduct in question so that the employee will know the reason for the warning and have an opportunity to improve his/her performance. Typical reasons for warnings include incidents of absence without leave, inadequate work performance or inappropriate behaviour. If the employee’s employment relationship will be terminated if the negligence continues, this must be explicitly stated in the warning.

In exercising the right to direct, the employer must treat employees equally. The policy for issuing warnings must also be consistent. For instance, if it is standard practice in a company to issue several warnings before terminating an employment contract, this practice cannot be summarily abandoned for an individual employee without a compelling reason.

The employer’s power to direct includes preference of interpretation

The employer’s right to direct includes preference of interpretation. This means that the employer’s view of how to apply employment legislation, collective agreements or an employment contract takes precedence. However, the employer may not interpret legislation and agreements in just any way; the employer’s decisions must be justified.

An employee may question the employer’s decision and take the case to court. If the employer is shown to have made an erroneous decision, the employer may be liable to pay compensation for damages. In some cases, an erroneus decision may even be a punishable offence.

 

Legislation

Employment Contracts Act (55/2001)

  • Chapter 2 Employer's obligations
  • Chapter 3 Employees’ obligations

Act on the Protection of Privacy in Working Life (759/2004)

Personal Data Act (523/1999)

  • Section 11 Prohibition to process sensitive data

Occupational Health Care Act (1383/2001)

  • Section 11 Occupational health care action plan and action programme on substance abuse prevention

Act on checking the criminal backround of persons working with children (504/2002)

Criminal Code (39/1889)

  • Chapter 24 Section 5: Eavesdropping
  • Chapter 24 Section 6: Illicit observation
  • Chapter 38 Section 3: Message interception
  • Chapter 38 Section 4: Aggravated message interception

Glossary

Right to direct An employer’s right by law to direct work and to issue instructions and orders to employees concerning the work.
Right to direct An employer’s right by law to direct work and to issue instructions and orders to employees concerning the work.
Commuting area An area defined as extending about 80 km from a person’s place of residence. These areas are defined for each Centre for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment and are listed in the Ministry of Employment and the Economy Decree on Commuting Areas.
Employer’s preference of interpretation The employer decides which agreements or terms are applied to an employee’s employment relationship. Grounds must be given for such a decision.