Unfair treatment at work - Yleistä


General information on topic

Employers have a duty to monitor their employees and intervene in any signs of harassment proactively. Early intervention usually makes it easier to resolve the issue. Harassment can also be prevented, for example, by agreeing on a code of conduct in advance and ensuring that every member of the work community knows that cases of harassment will be dealt with systematically.

What constitutes harassment?

The Finnish Occupational Safety and Health Act prohibits all kinds of harassment that put employees’ health at risk or in danger. Harassment refers to systematic and persistent offensive conduct or behaviour.

Harassment includes, for example,

  • repeated threats
  • intimidation
  • malicious or suggestive comments
  • belittling or scornful remarks
  • persistent unwarranted criticism and sabotage of performance
  • attacks on reputation or status
  • systematic ostracism or exclusion
  • sexual harassment.

These kinds of conduct have the potential to damage employees’ health.

Abuse of authority is also a form of harassment. Examples include

  • systematic unwarranted scrutiny of performance
  • making arbitrary changes to the nature of employees’ work or their workload
  • introducing unlawful amendments to agreed terms of employment
  • inappropriate use of powers
  • allocation of humiliating tasks.

What does not constitute harassment?

Not all bad behaviour in a workplace constitutes harassment posing a health hazard or other types of inappropriate treatment within the meaning of the Occupational Safety and Health Act. There is no need to intervene in inconsequential, isolated incidents, and occasional inappropriate remarks or work-related differences in opinion do not constitute harassment.

Some employees may find the way in which their employer uses their authority unreasonable, but employers are entitled to plan, manage and supervise the performance of their employees as they see fit. Employers also have the right to dictate their employees’ job descriptions, powers and procedures, and to impose a code of conduct.

The following do not constitute harassment:

  • employers’ fair and reasonable decisions and instructions concerning work and the management of work
  • general discussions concerning problems relating to work and the work community
  • justified intervention in employees’ practices
  • deserved warnings
  • ordering an employee to undergo a work ability assessment if there is a justified reason to do so.

Prevention of harassment and unfair treatment at work

Employers have a duty to be aware of any instances of workplace harassment and to take any reasonable steps to prevent harassment. For example, in development discussions or through various workplace surveys, the employer can clarify the employees' views on the atmosphere at the workplace and the functioning of the work community. Employers must systematically monitor the social dynamics of the work community and evaluate the need for preventive action.

Harassment can be prevented, for example, by

  • adopting a zero-tolerance policy (a clear statement by the management that harassment will not be tolerated)
  • agreeing on rules to ensure proper conduct in the workplace
  • putting in place procedures for addressing harassment in a systematic and efficient way
  • educating employees on the importance of avoiding and preventing harassment
  • training line managers to identify, address and resolve cases of harassment.

Harassment can also be prevented by ensuring that there are no irregularities in the working conditions that could make the workplace prone to harassment. Harassment is often driven by poor organisation, unclear responsibilities, lack of proper management and inefficient teamwork. Unreasonable workloads and stress over deadlines can also be triggers for inappropriate conduct.

Unfair treatment at work - Työntekijälle


Instructions for employee

What to do if you experience harassment

Bring up the harassment you have experienced as soon as possible with the person who has behaved inappropriately. Explain to the person as clearly as you can why you find their conduct inappropriate and tell them that you will not tolerate their actions. Provide tangible examples of what it is in their conduct that you find inappropriate. Ask them to stop their harassment or to change the way in which they act towards you. However, if the inappropriate behaviour continues, let them know that you will be taking the matter to your supervisor. If your harasser is your line manager, you can tell them that you will go straight to their superior.

You can discuss your experiences with an occupational safety and health representative or shop steward and, if necessary, you can also contact occupational health care.

For the proper handling of the case, it is important that you record how and when the harassment occurs and how you have acted yourself.

How to report harassment

Many workplaces have a procedure in place for addressing harassment or inappropriate treatment. Find out what the procedure is in your workplace and follow the guidelines. If you do not know whether there is a procedure in place, ask your line manager, occupational safety and health representative or shop steward.

If your employer does not have a procedure for reporting harassment, tell your line manager that you want to speak to them about harassment you have encountered. If your harasser is your line manager, you can go straight to their superior. Even in cases where the harasser is a member of the senior management of the workplace, the encountered harassment must be reported to the employer.

If you need support in taking the matter to the attention of your supervisor's employer, you can get support from, for example, an occupational safety representative, a shop steward or another support person. You can also report the harassment you have experienced using the form (in Finnish) "Reporting incidents of harassment to your employer".

Ask your line manager directly to address the issue. Also inform them that you wish to know what action they intend to take. If the management does not respond to your report within a reasonable time, find out from the recipient of your report whether they have already started to investigate or intend to investigate the harassment you have experienced. If your line manager has not acted on your report within a reasonable period of time, you can take up the matter and your report at a higher level than your line manager.

If the processing does not proceed at your workplace, make sure that your employer is aware of the report you have submitted. If necessary, please contact the Occupational Safety and Health Telephone Service for further instructions.

The occupational safety and health authority supervises

The Regional State Administrative Agencies’ Divisions of Occupational Safety and Health act as regional occupational safety and health authorities. If the employer does not act to stop the harassment or the harassment has not ended, you can contact the occupational safety and health authority's telephone service.

Your occupational safety and health authority can provide instructions and advice and, if necessary, enforce that your employer, after becoming aware of the matter, shall take measures for ending the harassment. 

However, occupational safety and health authorities are not required to provide assistance to customers or employers in processing matters or resolving conflicts. The occupational safety and health authority’s tasks do not include laying blame or settling disputes, nor to help employees in seeking damages for harassment.

Unfair treatment at work - Työnantajalle


Instructions for employer

How to investigate reports of harassment

Employers can learn about harassment from those who have encountered harassment and also from occupational safety and health representatives, shop stewards or occupational health care professionals. When you receive a report of encountered or witnessed harassment, you should respond without delay.  If there is a procedure in place for dealing with workplace harassment, please follow such a procedure.

Inform the harassed person what action and when you will be taking as a result of the report.

Firstly, a full record of events and actions experienced as harassment must be determined impartially by communicating with all parties involved. Employers should ideally initiate measures within two weeks of learning about the issue.

If necessary, outside experts such as occupational health care professionals can be consulted. However, the employer is always ultimately responsible for investigating each case and taking appropriate action.  If necessary, you can ask for instructions and advice on how to deal with harassment at the workplace from the occupational safety and health authority 's telephone service

How to intervene in harassment

Once the facts of the case are clear, action must be taken to address the situation. The Finnish Occupational Safety and Health Act does not specify how workplace harassment should be dealt with. However, employers have a duty to take whatever steps are necessary to stop unlawful harassment.

Managerial staff have the authority to prohibit any harassing conduct or unfair treatment that they observe in the workplace. It is the management’s responsibility to set clear rules for what is and what is not acceptable conduct in a work community.

It is recommended that the conclusions of the investigation of the harassment case and the instructions and regulations for ending the harassment are all recorded. The employer must follow-up that the measures taken to stop the harassment are implemented and that they are sufficient. If the harassment continues, the employer is entitled to take disciplinary action, for example, by giving the harasser a formal warning.

Underlying issues must also be addressed

If an employer concludes that a report of harassment is unfounded, they must clearly explain the reasons for their opinion to the interested parties. What employees perceive as harassment can sometimes be attributable to other issues relating to the organisation of work or social interactions within the work community, which the employer must address.

For example, an employee can feel that they are being harassed if their tasks or responsibilities, or the procedures that they are meant to follow, have not been clearly defined, if they are not given all the information that they need or if their manager does not give them enough support. Learn more about the psychosocial workload factors behind harassment.

Harassment can be prevented by agreeing on rules to ensure proper conduct in the workplace, a procedure for dealing with incidents and a clear organisation of work and a division of responsibilities.

Unfair treatment at work - Lainsäädäntö



Occupational Safety and Health Act (738/2002)

  • Section 28 – Harassment
  • Section 18 – Employees’ general obligations

Unfair treatment at work - Oikeuden päätökset


Court decisions and precedents

In 2014 the Supreme Court of Finland ordered an employer to pay damages to an employee for unfair treatment in case KKO:2014:44 (in Finnish). 

Unfair treatment at work - Muualla Tyosuojelu.fissä