Non-discrimination in job ads: Q & A for employers and employees

By law, employers in Finland are forbidden from treating their employees differently because of age, gender, sexual orientation, or ethnic or national origin. While most employers are familiar with the laws concerning non-discrimination, one area where the issue has been raised again and again are job ads. For example, in the summer of 2016 YLE News reported on a study which found instances of discriminatory wording in 80 job ads in Southern Finland.
However, with a little extra effort most mistakes can be avoided quite easily; and there are several regional and national services where employers and employees can turn with their questions and concerns about non-discrimination. We have collected answers to the most common questions about how to avoid discrimination in job ads.

1. What does the law say?

In Finland, the equal treatment of all people in the workplace – which includes the recruitment process – is founded in two laws:
  1. the Act on Equality between Women and Men (Tasa-arvolaki1986/609, in Finnish and Swedishin English, and
  2. the Non-Discrimination Act (Yhdenvertaisuuslaki 2014/1325, in Finnish and Swedish; in English

In a nutshell, discrimination based on gender, age, nationality, language, ethnic or national background in job adverts and in recruitment is forbidden, says Teuvo Moilanen, a recruitment services specialist at the Pirkanmaa TE office. The Non-Discrimination Act also prohibits discrimination on grounds such as political activity, disability, sexual orientation, religion, or other personal characteristics.

2. What does this mean for job ads?

In practice, this means that a job ad must not impose any requirements or requests on job applicants that are irrelevant for performing the job duties, explains Petra Saarenmaa, a lawyer for the Regional State Administrative Agency (AVI) for Western and Inner Finland.
When crafting a job ad, employers should therefore think carefully about which selection criteria are actually relevant for a given job. Following that, special attention should be paid to the wording of the job ad so that it does not discriminate against job seekers through criteria which are not actually relevant to the job.
For employers it’s good to know that all job ads published on the web pages of TE are checked for discriminating content. However, if the employer uses e-services, the advert gets published immediately and the check is done  afterwards, warns Moilanen. If employers are unsure whether the content they are posting conforms to anti-discrimination laws, they can always contact their local TE office for advice beforehand.
All job ads posted on TE’s web pages are checked for discriminating content, says Teuvo Moilanen


3. What are the most common mistakes?

First, the good news: According to Petra Saarenmaa, it seems that knowledge of the requirements of the non-discrimination legislation is gradually improving. AVI still has to deal with a few cases every year. In the Pirkanmaa area, discriminative incidents are relatively rare and minor, reports Teuvo Moilanen.
In his experience, the most common problem seems to be a request for a photo in a job advert. With a few exceptions, such as modelling, this is forbidden. Employers are not always aware of this. Other common mistakes include a requirement of a certain age range or Finnish nationality without any legal foundation, adds Saarenmaa.
One common requirement that often affects international talents are the language skills noted in some job ads. Finnish skills are unquestionably important in most jobs and significantly increase an applicant’s chances of finding work in Finland. However, employers may demand native-level or perfect Finnish skills only in so far as they are absolutely required by the job (e.g. for a journalist or a lawyer who crafts legal documents). In any case, if employers want to specifiy the language skills at all, they should think about and clearly specify them.

4. Where can employers get advice?

Needless to say, making decisions like these can sometimes be tricky. If in doubt, employers should not hesitate to contact AVI, says Petra Saarenmaa. The website of the Occupational Health and Safety Administration in Finland (OSH), a subdivision of AVI, offers a wealth of information. For more specific questions, OSH also has a nation-wide telephone service (call 0295 016 620) which gives advice to employers andemployees.
As mentioned above, the TE office can be another source of help for employers. We can asssist in creating an advert if an employer is uncertain about the appropriate way to advert their job, says Teuvo Moilanen.

5. What can job seekers do if they encounter discrimination?

Similarly, both institutions can give help and advice to job seekers who have spotted discriminating content in a job ad. If you notice such content on the TE pages, you should report it to us, says Moilanen. The TE office will look into the issue and if necessary edit and remove the job ad. In such cases, TE also contacts the employer to clarify the issue.

If you happen to notice discriminating content in a job ad, you should not hesitate to contact TE or AVI.

AVI can also make further inquiries into such issues and give guidance to employees. If necessary, we can even force the employer to stop posting discriminating job ads, adds Petra Saarenmaa.


Further information and resources:

Equality.fi: Materials and information on legislation and diversity issues for all concered with non-discrimination (in Finnish, Swedish and English).

Non-Discrimination Ombudsman: An independent authority which provides information and advice on non-discrimination (but cannot investigate cases of discrimination) in a wide range of languages.