Legal Alerts/9 Jun 2014

Legal Alert – Proposal to Extend Companies’ Responsibility for Promoting Equality

The Finnish Government has submitted to Parliament a proposal to reform the Non-Discrimination Act, which, if approved, would extend the obligation of both employers and providers of goods and services to promote equality. The purpose of the amendment is to prevent discrimination on the basis of ethnic origin, age, nationality, language, religion, belief, opinion, health, disability, sexual orientation, or other personal characteristics more effectively.

If Parliament approves this proposal, the reform will extend the scope of the compensation to be paid for discrimination and victimization and remove the maximum limit of compensation.

As a result of this reform, companies that regularly employ at least 30 employees would be obliged to draft an equality plan which defines how the company intends to improve the working conditions as well as the measures used in recruitment and in making decisions regarding the personnel in order to ensure equal treatment. These measures and their effectiveness should be discussed together with the personnel or personnel representatives. It is stated in the proposal that, upon request, the personnel representative would have the right to know what measures the employer has taken to promote equality at the workplace. In the new Non-Discrimination Act, the definition of discrimination would cover the situation where the employer has learned of the harassment of an employee but neglected to take the available measures to end such harassment.

The Government also proposes that the Act on Equality between Women and Men be amended in connection with this reform. According to the proposal, the scope of the Equality Act would be extended to cover not only discrimination on the basis of gender but also unequal treatment on the basis of gender identity or expression. Under the new Equality Act, employers would be obliged to draft an equality plan every other year. The act would also include the obligation to inform the personnel of the equality plan, and personnel participation would be enhanced. In addition, it is proposed that employers’ obligations to survey wage differentials be increased and specified.

The proposal is currently debated in Parliament. The scheduled date of entry into force is not yet known, but companies are recommended to take the potential increased obligations into account when planning their business operations and in particular cooperation procedure with employees.

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