Discriminatory use of supervisory powers and discrimination at work

In principle, employers have the right to manage work, divide work tasks, and otherwise organise working conditions. In accordance with the Equality Act, those in positions of power at work may not use their power in such a way that one or more workers are disadvantaged on the basis of gender. Employers are guilty of discrimination if they manage work, distribute tasks or otherwise arrange working conditions in such a way that an employee or employees find themselves in a less favourable position than other employees on the basis of gender, gender identity or gender expression. 

Work management includes deciding upon the use of work time and work supervision, work space arrangements, the distribution of work equipment, and the development of employees' duties and professional skills. Discrimination includes, for example, duties being divided so that the most monotonous and boring tasks are given solely to either men or women or to a person who is pregnant. It is also considered discrimination if the opportunity to work overtime is given only to men, or if only women's working hours are changed to be part-time. 

The significance of the division of work is emphasised particularly in situations where the nature of duties is decisive in regards to opportunities to advance into new and better paid positions. An employer is not guilty of discrimination if it can demonstrate that its actions were due to an acceptable reason and not to the applicant's gender.

In accordance with the Employment Contracts Act, a person returning from family leave has the right to return to their former job. If this is not possible, the employee must be offered work under a contract of employment that corresponds to his or her former job, and, if this is not possible either, another form of employment under a contract. Provisions on the right to persons returning from family leave to return to their former job are also laid out in European Union directives. Read more: Discrimination due to pregnancy and family leave.

Example

Heikki, an Engineer:

He worked for an industrial company. When he became a father, Heikki informed his workplace that he would first go on paternity leave and then, after that, on parental leave. 

His supervisor was a bit taken aback by this, as the other men at the company usually didn't stay at home to take care of the children. Heikki nevertheless stuck to his decision and was off work for a total of 6 months. 

When he returned to work, the nature of his job had changed. Whereas before Heikki's work involved line management duties, now he did boring routine tasks. Heikki's line management responsibilities had been shared among other employees.

He got in touch with the Ombudsman for Equality and the Ombudsman requested that his employer investigate the matter. The situation was resolved when the employer and Heikki negotiated. He got his previous job back. 

When Heikki returned to work, his job had changed. Whereas before Heikki's work involved line management duties, now he did boring routine tasks. Heikki's line management responsibilities had been shared among other employees.

Do you suspect discrimination?

If you suspect that you have been discriminated against, instructions and guidance are available from the Ombudsman for Equality.

In cases of discrimination at work:

  • If you are a member of a trade union, you should get in touch with the shop steward and find out your rights.
  • Guidance from the Ombudsman for Equality is free. Trade union membership fees include the right to legal advice.
  • You can also contact a legal aid council, a lawyer's office or a lawyer. You will usually be charged for legal services. Check if you have the kind of legal expenses insurance that will also cover your legal expenses.

If you have a low income, you may be entitled to the services of a public legal aid attorney for free or reduced price.