APN this week: Suspect you didn't get the job because of your foreign name? In Finland, it's not clear who can help

Finland has separate pathways for dealing with gender and ethnic discrimination. 

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If you think an employer has a problem with your gender, it’s fairly clear. You call up the gender equality ombudsman, ask the employer for an explanation of their decision, and take it from there.

If you believe you didn’t get the job because you have a foreign name, it’s different. You have no right to demand an explanation from the employer and the non-discrimination ombudsman, who is charged with fighting discrimination based on ethnicity, cannot help you.

Instead that falls to the occupational health and safety authority. It’s not a simple or obvious procedure.

"It’s not always easy for people to know whom to contact about suspected discrimination cases," admits Jenny Rintala, senior inspector responsible for occupational health and safety at the Southern-Finland Regional Administrative Agency.

Citing an agency report released earlier this year (siirryt toiseen palveluun), Rintala said that in 2018 the organisation fielded 500 calls from individuals and organisations, about 200 of which dealt with discrimination.

"The number of complaints shows that a large portion of discrimination remains hidden. It’s not easy for people to contact an authority. They may not know how to or may fear reprisals," she says, adding that people may also worry about having to fork out money if a case goes to court.

According to Rintala, 150 of the cases brought to the agency’s attention later went to court. She noted that discrimination is a highly subjective issue on both the part of an individual and an employer, and added that the law may not be very clear either.

"The definition of discrimination is complicated and is based on EU directives. Therefore it is hard for employers to understand what action constitutes illegal discrimination. For instance the concept of indirect discrimination is often hard to identify . In addition, the employers’ duty to promote equality and draft an equality plan needs to be clarified so employers know what the obligation means in practice."

Employers not bound to justify themselves to ethnic minorities

In addition to employers’ apparent unease with non-discrimination legislation, there is currently no law compelling recruiters to disclose why they rejected a job applicant.

Non-Discrimination Ombudsman Kirsi Pimiä told Yle that it is very difficult for officials to intervene when they suspect ethnic discrimination in hiring because in Finland, an employer does not need to rationalise its choice to candidates who suspect ethnic discrimination.

"A rejected applicant has no information about why another candidate is better. A report to parliament last year proposed that people should have the right to receive an explanation of recruitment decisions, in the same way that it is now possible to get one on the basis of disability or gender. It would then be better to deal with these cases once the reasoning is known," Pimiä said.

Pimiä said that the office has called for a broader mandate that would allow it to pursue ethnic discrimination cases reported by individuals.

"We are ready to propose an expansion of our mandate so that we as well as other European colleagues would have a mandate to deal with workplace discrimination, and where hiring bias would be one area where we could ensure compliance with occupational health and safety laws better than occupational health and safety officials currently do," she added.

Growing number of discrimination reports

A 2018 report from the ombudsman's office (siirryt toiseen palveluun) pointed to increasing discrimination reports based on origin, nationality, language and other factors. According to Michaela Moua, a senior officer working on discrimination issues at the ombudsman’s office, in 2018, 194 individuals reached out to the organisation regarding alleged employment discrimination. These cases are referred to occupational health authorities as the ombudsman has no power to intervene.

Moua says that with broader powers, the Non-Discrimination Ombudsman would be able to intervene in individual cases of employment discrimination.

"We would then be able to better guarantee the rights of individuals in employment with regard to the Non-Discrimination law and this would lower the threshold for people to come forward."

She notes, however that the office where work-related bias affects individuals, the office is "able to give recommendations on how to prevent discrimination and to promote non-discrimination. We can also support mediation in some cases."

On Monday, Yle reported on Helsinki University research indicating a bias among employers toward granting interviews to white Finnish job applicants, while Somali applicants received few invitations to interviews.

Employment minister Timo Harakka weighed in on the debate, declaring on Twitter that the new Antti Rinne-led government would be moving to tackle biased hiring practices.

There is guidance on what to do if you suspect discrimination on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration website.

Michaela Moua joins us on the All Points North podcast this Thursday to discuss the issue of discrimination in hiring practices. Tell us what you think. How big is the problem? What can be done to fight it? You can send comments or questions via WhatsApp on +358 44 421 0909, on our Facebook or Twitter accounts, or to yle.news@yle.fi.