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Employee representatives support LGBTQ co-workers

TEK's specialist compiled a list of five ways for employee representatives to better take LGBTQ employees into account. TEK’s lawyer summarises how the rights of minorities are secured by legislation.

 

Knowledge, will, action – with these words Sirkku Pohja, TEK’s Work Life Specialist, summarises her tips for employee representatives. In practice:

1. Begin by reading what has been written in the equality plans and various operation models and instructions related to equality at your workplace. Do they contain mentions of gender and sexual orientation in a way that respects diversity of gender in its entirety? Is there a written stipulation that states that the work community respects different characteristics, customs and backgrounds, for example? Or can you find the clause that states that the employer is to ensure that everyone has equal opportunities in their work and career?

  • If not, you should discuss the issue with management and a HR representative. Come together to think about how to deal with the issue.
  • If the plans take these issues into account, you could then begin to analyse the physical environment of the workplace. How are the clauses of the plans put into practice? Does your office take difference into account in the form of gender neutral spaces – by offering gender-neutral toilets for both employees and customers, for example?

2. If you find the topic of rainbow issues new to you or if you wish to find further information, you may ask me at TEK for help (Sirkku Pohja) and/or seek out more learning about these issues on your own. The national human rights association Seta has plenty of expertise and training to offer. Training and communication in general should also be brought up with a representative of the employer. 

3. Keep reminding those you represent of these equality issues on a regular basis. It is important to highlight people’s difference even when it is not apparent on the outside. You should increase awareness of the fact that there might be members of sexual and gender minorities or rainbow families at the workplace. That alone is a great start! It sends the signal that differences are accepted and says that everyone is taken into account as equals.

BRINGING MATTERS UP PROMOTES UNDERSTANDING AND EVEN SMALL CHANGES CAN HAVE GREAT IMPACTS.

4. Organise a shared discussion event for those you represent either remotely or face-to-face in a small group. 

  • The event could focus on terms and concepts related to sexual and gender minorities.
  • The other topic could be the discussion culture at your workplace. How does your work community verbalise things? What kind of humour is used at work and how does it make people feel? Humour and jokes are part of everyday life at the workplace. However, one might need to adapt the jokes so that they are funny for everyone.

Bringing matters up promotes understanding and even small changes can have great impacts. Hold these discussion events regularly. Working life is changing and participation in the change is also required in terms of diversity. 

5. As an employee representative you can support a rainbow person by treating them with appreciation and not assuming things at first glance. Assumptions are often correct, but not always. Therefore you should never assume a co-worker's gender by their name or looks, for example.

By doing this you set a good example for others and help turn your workplace into an inclusive space that is openly accepting of people regardless of their characteristics. As an employee representative you have influence. You can remind yourself and others that everyone's experience of themselves is key. Everyone has the right to their own gender identity and may express it in the way they choose.

Sirkku Pohja works at TEK as a Work Life Specialist focusing on matters related to labour protection and equality.

TEK’s lawyer Emilia Uotila: “Everyone benefits from a discrimination-free work community”

How does legislation protect the rights of LGBTQ employees?

The employer must treat employees equally (Employment Contracts Act, Chapter 2, Section 1).

Discrimination in working life means treating an employee or job seeker worse because of some personal characteristic of theirs. The ban on discrimination prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, for example (Non-discrimination Act, Chapter 3, Section 8). Harassment is also a form of prohibited discrimination. Harassment is unwanted behaviour that either purposefully or in reality violates a person's mental or physical integrity and creates an atmosphere that is threatening, hostile, demeaning, humiliating or oppressive.

The Act on Equality between Women and Men also defines a prohibition of discrimination (Section 7). Placing people in different positions because of their gender identity or gender expression is not allowed. Sex-based harassment is also prohibited. This kind of harassment could mean unwanted behaviour related to a person’s sex, gender identity or gender expression, for example.

The punishments for discrimination are defined in the Criminal Code and in addition to fines, workplace harassment may also result in a jail sentence. The person who was discriminated against also has the right to compensation according to the Non-discrimination Act and damages according to the Tort Liability Act. 

How are these statutes visible in the everyday operations of the workplace?

Each employer must actively prevent discrimination and promote the equality of their employees. If an employer employs at least 30 persons, the workplace must have an equality plan. For instructions on drafting this plan, see yhdenvertaisuus.fi or the joint instructions issued by Akava, SAK and STTK (in Finnish).

The employer should discuss anti-discriminatory measures and their impactfulness together with employees or their representatives. These measures could mean forming procedures for processing suspected instances of discrimination or equality training for employees and supervisors, for example. 

A representative of the employees has the right to request information on what measures the employer has taken to promote equality at the workplace. The goal is to integrate the promotion of equality into the regular development practices of the workplace.

Discrimination in recruitment is illegal. You should even draft the job ad so that it does not discriminate against applicants. The job ad must not contain any baseless demands related to a person's characteristics. The merits of the applicants must be compared objectively and the recruiter must be able to justify their decisions. The employer may only ask for information that is significant for one's success in the job. Marital status is not such a piece of information, for example. Benefits and salaries must also be offered in a non-discriminatory fashion. 

Indirect harassment is also prohibited. Dress code requirements must be justified in order to be acceptable, for example.

If an employee sees a LGBTQ colleague being discriminated against, what can they do? Or what if they are facing discrimination themselves?

If you encounter harassment or discrimination, contact your supervisor. If they cannot help you, contact your occupational safety delegate, employee representative or us, the lawyers of TEK. If necessary, you could also contact the labour protection department of the Regional State Administrative Agency that monitors discrimination in working life.

Inappropriate behaviour must also be addressed. Everyone benefits from a work community that is free of discrimination and harassment!

The questions were answered by TEK’s lawyer Emilia Uotila.

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