Opportunity for pregnancy-related examinations during working hours for women only (TAS 315/2021, issued on 24 June 2021)
A male individual contacted the Ombudsman for Equality concerning a future father’s opportunity to participate in pregnancy-related examinations during working hours. The spouse of the person making contact was pregnant, and he found out from his employer that the right to attend examinations related to pregnancy only applies to pregnant women, not the child’s father. The person making contact felt that the father of the child is being treated unequally compared with the mother.
Assessment of the case
The duty of the Ombudsman for Equality is to supervise compliance with the prohibition of discrimination based on gender, gender identity or gender expression, as referred to in the Act on Equality between Women and Men (609/1986), or the Equality Act. The powers of the Ombudsman for Equality are limited to supervision of compliance with the provisions of the Equality Act. The Ombudsman for Equality cannot comment on compliance with other legislation or realisation of other kinds of equality.
The provision in chapter 4, section 8 of the Employment Contracts Act (55/2001) states that the employer shall compensate a pregnant employee for loss of earnings incurred from medical consultations prior to the birth if it is not possible to arrange the consultations outside working hours.
According to the preparatory materials (government proposal 108/1994), the background for the provision was implementation of the European Community’s Protection of Pregnant Workers Directive in Finland, so the purpose was to ensure the health of the expectant mother and the foetus. Several collective agreements also include similar provisions concerning the opportunity of pregnant women to attend consultations related to pregnancy during working hours.
Considering the aforementioned purpose of health examinations for pregnant women, an expectant mother and the future father are not in comparable position regarding them. Thus the case does not involve discrimination on the basis of gender prohibited in the Equality Act, and the Ombudsman for Equality is unable to intervene in the situation.
However, the Ombudsman for Equality finds it important that fathers can take part in a child’s life as equally as possible during pregnancy, upon delivery and in terms of child clinic services. In a case like this, improving fathers’ opportunities for participation requires amending the Employment Contracts Act, collective agreements or the terms and conditions of an employment relationship.