New Non-Discrimination Act entered into force
The provisions on non-discrimination have been reformed by the new Non-Discrimination Act, which entered into force on the 1 January 2015.
As a result of the reform, the Ombudsman for Minorities was replaced by a Non-Discrimination Ombudsman, which is empowered to consider a broader range of discrimination issues. Also certain provisions of the Act on Equality between Women and Men (Equality Act) have been amended.
The new Act obliges e.g. to promote the equality of persons with disabilities
The new Act expands the scope of protection against discrimination. The Act will be applied to all public and private activities, excluding private life, family life and practice of religion.
The protection against discrimination is equal regardless of whether the discrimination is based on ethnic origin, age, nationality, language, religion, belief, opinion, health, disability, sexual orientation or other personal characteristics.
The obligation to promote equality is expanded to concern not only public authorities, but also education providers, educational institutes and employers. These are required to draw up a plan to promote equality. The obligation to draw up an equality plan concerns employers who regularly have a personnel of at least 30 employees.
Public authorities, education providers and employers must, where necessary, make reasonable accommodations to ensure that employees with disabilities have equal access to services, work or education and training. Persons with disabilities must also have equal access to goods and services. The disability of a person must be taken into account in provision of services, for example, by arranging accessible passage for those who need it whenever possible.
Employers were already under the former legislation obliged to make reasonable accommodations, but for providers of goods and services, such as hotels, restaurants and retailers, this is a new obligation.
Improvements to the legal protection of persons facing discrimination
Up to now, the possibilities for a discriminated person to get advice or legal aid have been different depending on the discrimination ground. There have also been differences in the supervision of compliance with non-discrimination legislation depending on the ground of discrimination.
The former Ombudsman for Minorities only supervised compliance with the prohibition of discrimination on basis of ethnic origin, but the new Non-Discrimination Ombudsman supervises compliance with the Non-Discrimination Act with regard to all grounds of discrimination.
Compliance with the provisions on equality in working life in individual cases will continue to be supervised by the occupational safety authorities. However, also the Non-Discrimination Ombudsman has duties and powers relating to equality in working life. The Ombudsman for Equality continues to supervise compliance with the Equality Act.
The National Discrimination Tribunal and the Equality Board are merged to create a new body. The mandate of the new Tribunal covers all discrimination grounds. The Tribunal may issue prohibition or obligation decisions and, by virtue of the Non-Discrimination Act, confirm a conciliation settlement between parties. To reinforce its prohibition or obligation decision, the Tribunal may also impose a conditional fine. The board does not supervise compliance with the Non-Discrimination Act in issues relating to working life.
Amendments to the Equality Act
The provisions on gender equality and prohibition of discrimination based on gender are laid down in the Equality Act. In the reform, the Equality Act has been amended so that new provisions on prohibition of discrimination based on gender identity or the expression of gender identity have been included in the Act. In addition, the provisions on drawing up a gender equality plan have been reformed, and the obligation of educational institutions to prepare a gender equality plan has been expanded to concern also institutions providing basic education.
The Ombudsman for Equality, the Ombudsman for Children and the Non-Discrimination Ombudsman now operate under the Ministry of Justice
As a result of the reform, the Ombudsman for Equality, the Ombudsman for Children and the Non-Discrimination Ombudsman as well as their offices have been brought under the administrative branch of the Ministry of Justice. Also the new Non-Discrimination Tribunal operates under the administrative branch of the Ministry of Justice. The Ombudsmen and the new Tribunal are independent and impartial bodies.
Up to now, the Ombudsman for Equality, the Ombudsman for Children and the former Equality Board have been operating under the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health. The Ombudsman for Minorities and the National Discrimination Tribunal supervising the compliance with the Non-Discrimination Act operated under the Ministry of the Interior.
The responsibility for developing non-discrimination policies and legislation as well as the Advisory Board for Ethnic Relations have been transferred from the Ministry of the Interior to the Unit for Democracy, Language Affairs and Fundamental Rights at the Ministry of Justice. In total nine public officials have been transferred to the service of the the Ministry of Justice.
The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health is still responsible for the duties relating to the Equality Act.
Director Johanna Suurpää, Ministry of Justice, tel. +358 2951 50534 , and
Legal Adviser Timo Makkonen, Ministry of Justice (issues relating to the Non-Discrimination Act), tel. +358 2951 50230 ,
e-mail: [email protected]
Senior Officer, Legal Affairs, Johanna Hautakorpi, Ministry of Social Affairs and Health (issues relating to the Equality Act), tel. +358 2951 63235 ,
Senior Officer, Legal Affairs, Tuula Andersin, Ministry of Social Affairs and Health (issues relating to occupational safety and health), tel. +358 295 163 506
e-mail: [email protected]
Senior Adviser, Legal Affairs, Tarja Kröger, Ministry of Employment and the Economy (issues relating to working life),
tel. +358 295 048937 , e-mail: [email protected]
Senior Officer, Panu Artemjeff, Ministry of the Interior, (transfer of the duties relating to equality and ethnic relations), tel. +358 2954 88286 , e-mail: [email protected]