Suspected cases of occupational discrimination up sharply in Southern Finland
More than a third of cases involve dismissal over pregnancy
Suspicions of illegal discrimination in the workplace have multiplied in the Occupational Safety and Health Inspectorate of Uusimaa over the course of the last few years.
Last year a total of 24 cases were recorded, and in nine of them the reason for discrimination was suspected to be pregnancy.
An employee’s contract had been terminated or her employment contract had not been prolonged after she had told of her pregnancy.
According to the occupational safety officials, a clear majority of communication relating to discrimination at work involves reports of unjustified dismissals because of pregnancy.
"The sense we get is that it is fairly common that an employment contract is cancelled during a trial period, for example because of pregnancy"”, notes inspector Jenny Rintala.
On the whole, reports concerning discrimination at work are received rather seldom, even though matters relating to occupational welfare give more and more work to Occupational Safety and Health Inspectorates these days.
Furthermore, it is extremely rare that such reports develop to the point where criminal charges might be brought. For example, the Occupational Safety and Health Inspectorate of Häme as well as that of Turku and Pori report that the number of annual cases is not more than a handful.
Moreover, only the Uusimaa Occupational Safety Office compiles statistics of such cases.
Matti Penttinen, a Helsinki lawyer who has been handling issues relating to occupational discrimination since the mid-1980s, has noticed that the number of cases involving unjustified dismissals based on pregnancy have increased over the last two years.
Last year Penttinen handled nine cases of suspected illegal dismissals because of pregnancy, while in previous years he had approximately one such case per year.
According to Penttinen, in the majority of cases dismissal has occurred very soon after the employee has reported her pregnancy.
Senior Constable Jouko Siikavirta from the Criminal Investigation Division of the Helsinki Police Department, who is in charge of occupational discrimination issues, notes that suspected discrimination based on pregnancy is often a question of proof.
The most typical suspicion involves a case in which a woman during a trial period informs her employer that she is pregnant, Siikavirta reports. Then the employer informs her that the employment contract will be terminated after the trial period. Afterwards the question is, whether or not the woman informed the employer first or the other way around.
Siikavirta points out that when an employee informs the employer of her pregnancy, there should be some witnesses around.
According to the labour unions, the majority of cases reported to them involve fixed-term contracts that have been terminated after the employer has been informed of the employee’s pregnancy.
In fact, the contract should be prolonged if the tasks continue to exist. If not, this too is illegal, says lawyer Vappu Okker from the Union of Health and Social Care Professionals (TEHY).
Most employees are rather reluctant to press charges, as they hope that after their maternity absence they would be able to continue working for their former employer again.