What is pregnancy discrimination?

Pregnancy discrimination is a significant problem for equality in working life. It affects the career plans of women and the family plans of young adults in many ways. Pregnancy discrimination also affects the equal use of family leave between parents.

The law explicitly forbids the discrimination of an employee on the basis of pregnancy or family leave. Despite this, it is still common for the knowledge of an employee's pregnancy to affect their employment relationship.

The problem is constantly present in the work of the Ombudsman for Equality. Over half of employment-related calls received by the Ombudsman concern discrimination due to pregnancy or family leave. A third of written queries are related to pregnancy discrimination.

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In addition to the Ombudsman for Equality, suspected cases of pregnancy and family leave-related discrimination are reported regularly to occupational safety and health authorities, the police and trade unions.

Pregnancy discrimination happens on a wide scale, irrespective of one’s educational background or professional field. The employer who is guilty of discrimination can be a company, a municipality, an authority, an organisation or a congregation.

The risk of discrimination due to pregnancy or family leave is particularly great for women working on a fixed-term, part-time or zero-hour contract basis during uncertain labour market conditions. 

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How can I identify pregnancy discrimination?

Suspected cases of discrimination usually occur in connection with

  • Recruitment situations
  • The extension of fixed-term contracts
  • Returning to work from family leave
  • Pay and work-related benefits during pregnancy and family leave

The law explicitly forbids the discrimination of an employee on the basis of pregnancy or family leave.

This is pregnancy discrimination

Examples of cases handled by the Ombudsman for Equality
(names have been changed) 

A person who is pregnant is not chosen for the job 

...despite being the most qualified applicant.

Anna, nurse:
Anna had been working as a substitute nurse at a health station for two years. She had been promised an extension to her contract as a substitute for a nurse who had taken study leave, but this promise was withdrawn when Anna told the head nurse that she was pregnant.

The employer claimed that she should have applied for the position, even though previous substitutes had been hired without an application.

Johanna, teacher:
Johanna's contract as a teacher had been extended several times at the same school.

When Johanna became pregnant, her contract was not extended for the following school year. She applied for three open positions at the same school, but she was not selected for any of them, even though she had previously been selected from the same group of applicants.

...the promise of work was withdrawn when she told the head nurse that she was pregnant.

The employment relationship is terminated during the trial period

...even if the employee has done the job well.

Maija, salesperson
Maija was hired on an indefinite basis. After Maija told her employer that she was pregnant, her employer began searching for a new employee to replace her.

 A week after Maija had informed her employer about her pregnancy, and two weeks before the trial period was to end, her employment contract was terminated due to financial reasons.

Anna, an employee at a hamburger restaurant:
Anna was hired on an indefinite basis. Her employment contract included a four-month trial period.

Anna began her work in November and in February told her employer that she was pregnant.

Anna's employment contract was terminated on the basis of the trial period at the employer's initiative at the beginning of March. Anna's employer justified the termination on the basis of Anna’s future study plans and her unwillingness to work certain shifts. Anna denied refusing any shifts and said that she does not have any specific place of study lined up. After conducting their inspection, the occupational safety and health authority notified the police that there was reason to suspect that the employer was guilty of work discrimination.

...the employment contract was terminated on the basis of the trial period at the emloyer's initiative...

When an employee is expected to go on a family leave, their career and pay progression stalls 

...despite having been promised a raise or additional job duties before the pregnancy.

Kirsi, lawyer:
Kirsi was not given the new job position that she had prepared for nor the related raise in her salary. The matter came to light soon after she had informed her employer about her pregnancy. Kirsi was also denied the new position of head lawyer that was to be established at her workplace and that had been discussed with her before her employer found out that she was pregnant.

...she was not given the job position that she had prepared for...

Pregnancy or an impending family leave leads to the employee being selected for redundancy

...when the employer is laying off staff due to production-related or financial reasons.

Jenni, industrial worker:
Jenni had told her employer about her pregnancy, and was dismissed. The employer claimed that the cause for the dismissal was that the work process had been automated and the tasks had been outsourced, so they no longer needed as many workers as before.

However, according to the district court, there were no production-related grounds for her dismissal and that the reason for the dismissal was her pregnancy, and Jenni should have been trained to perform new duties.

The district court decided that Jenni should receive compensation for pregnancy discrimination.

The employer told that the cause for the dismissal was that the work process was automated...

An employee returns from family leave and finds that their duties have "disappeared"

...or the employee has been replaced with a substitute. The employee is laid off due to “production-related and financial reasons”.

Sari, teacher
Sari had completed two consecutive fixed-term contracts at the same school before she left for her maternity leave during the summer break.

Sari's fixed-term employment relationship was not extended for the following school year, and instead a new teacher was hired in her place on a fixed-term basis.

When Sari informed her employer that she would come back to work before the next school year was to begin, she was informed that the person who had been hired in her place would continue her work, and that no work was available for her.

Sari filed a suit against her employer. The court of appeal noted that the employer was guilty of discrimination that is prohibited in the Equality Act.

Elina, occupational health nurse:
When Elina went on maternity leave, she had worked at an occupational health clinic for several years on fixed-term contracts.

When she told her employer that she would go on childcare leave after her maternity leave ended, her employer told her that her substitute would continue in her place, as the substitute was more qualified than Elina.

Previously, Elina had always been given an extension without an application process. Consequently, she should have been considered to be sufficiently qualified and her contract should have been extended.

...the employer told her that her substitute would continue in her place...