Legal Alerts/13 Mar 2014

Legal Alert – Criminal Proceedings Becoming a Growing Trend in Employment Disputes

Employment offences are a topical issue in Finland. The District Court of Helsinki has recently convicted a trade union leader of a work safety offense and assault in a highly publicized case of workplace bullying.

According to the Court the trade union leader had, as a chairman of the board of the trade union, deliberately behaved inappropriately towards the head of PR over many years and in such way injured her health. It is notable that the Court also convicted the chairman of the trade union’s council and the vice chairman of the board of the same work safety offense. The Court found that these two defendants did not fulfill their obligation as representatives of the employer to interfere in the inappropriate behavior of the chairman of the board although they were aware of it. The Court imposed fines on all the defendants. In addition the defendants were sentenced to pay compensation to the head of PR and a corporate fine was imposed on the trade union. The decision is not legally valid yet.

The prosecutor has now pressed discrimination charges also against some other members of the board of the trade union. According to public sources the prosecutor claims that the head of PR has been discriminated also by those board members who voted for the termination of her employment while her complaint regarding the inappropriate behavior of the chairman of the board was under investigation of the occupational safety and health authorities.

The events at the trade union are an efficient reminder that many breaches of employer obligations are criminalized and may lead to heavy public sanctions as well as liability for damages. It is to be expected that such breaches are, instead of civil disputes between the employer and the employee, more and more frequently dealt in criminal proceedings with the assistance of a prosecutor.

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