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Fired Helsinki Airport security worker has "no regrets" over pink ribbon hassle

Patrik Leppänen was fired from his security job at Helsinki Airport after he refused to stop wearing a pink ribbon on his uniform, but said he has "no regrets."

Patrik Leppänen
Patrik Leppänen. Image: Yle

Patrik Leppänen, 22, told Yle that he was fired from his job at aviation services firm Airpro after he repeatedly ignored requests from his superior to stop wearing a pink ribbon on his uniform.

Finland observes Breast Cancer Awareness month in October, and the ribbons are part of the Cancer Society's campaign to support breast cancer research. But the pushback Leppänen received from his former employer about wearing the ribbon began a year ago, he said.

His supervisor did not want him to wear the ribbon on his uniform while on the job, but Leppänen refused to comply.

"It's personal. A close relative of mine has breast cancer and [the cancer] has returned several times. I wanted to support her," Leppänen said.

He said he bought a new ribbon to wear this month because he thought it was permitted, saying that Airpro had made an earlier decision to support the breast cancer research campaign, partly because of his initiative.

The cost of persistence

So he wore the ribbon on his uniform for the second year in a row, deciding that he would fight for the right to wear it.

"I figured that the pink ribbon on my chest would be good advertising for the company since every passenger goes through security control checks," he explained.

However, he received several verbal warnings - and then a written one - urging him to stop wearing the ribbon.

"Then I went back to work with the ribbon on my clothes, and then a meeting was called which in the end resulted in me being fired on Friday," he said.

"There was no [other reason] behind it, apart from the pink ribbon," he said, saying that he had otherwise carried out his work tasks commendably and without other problems.

Leppänen said he was touched when many of his colleagues at the Finnish Aviation Union (IAU) walked off the job in his support for four-and-a-half hours on Monday.

"It warms my heart that people would march out from their jobs for me. It showed that I was valued and that I am not alone," the dismissed worker said.

"I appreciate everyone who supports me in this situation. Not a single person has asked me why I didn't simply take off the ribbon. I have only received positive response and appreciation for what I'm fighting for. It's an important campaign because cancer affects many people," Leppänen said.

He said he plans to carefully examine his dismissal with the union, but doesn't feel that he made the wrong decision.

"I have no regrets. I will move on with a positive attitude and a smile on my face, which is the way I am. That's why I've been a well-liked employee and that's why my colleagues walked out," he said.

Airpro's CEO Janne Hattula said Leppänen's dismissal had nothing to do with the pink ribbon itself, but rather what is permitted - and forbidden - to wear on work uniforms.

"We have more than 1,500 workers and common rules which state that unnecessary pins, badges or jewellery are not allowed to be included on uniforms," Hattula said.

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