Discrimination and Equal Opportunities in the working life

The Discrimination Act (2008:567)

The Swedish Discrimination Act is based on directives from the European Union and establishes a general framework for combating discrimination together with promoting equal treatment in the working life.

Prohibition of discrimination

The Discrimination Act prohibits discrimination on the grounds of sex, transgender identity or expression, ethnicity, religion or other belief, disability, sexual orientation and age. An employer may not discriminate against an individual in the capacity as an employee, temporary employee, a job-seeker, a trainee or a school pupil in a work experience position. Discrimination is prohibited in any situation within the working life, but could for an example arise in a situation of recruitment, dismissal, promotion, training, supervision, applying terms and conditions of employment, day to day management and so on.

Both direct and indirect discrimination is prohibited. Direct discrimination is established to be when someone is disadvantaged by being treated less favorably than someone else is being treated, has been treated or would have been treated in a comparable situation, and this disadvantage is associated with one of the grounds of discrimination. Indirect discrimination is stated to be when someone is disadvantaged by the application of a provision, a criterion or a procedure that appears neutral, although it may put individuals of a certain ground of discrimination at a disadvantage, unless the provision, criterion or procedure has a legitimate purpose and means which are appropriate and necessary to achieve this purpose.

In addition, the act prohibits harassments, sexual harassment and giving instructions to discriminate. It also prohibit employers from subjecting employees who have reported discriminations or participated in investigations of discrimination to reprisals.

Contravening the prohibition against discrimination results in a liability to pay damages, both for the offence itself and for economic loss. Furthermore, an agreement is invalid to the extent that its provisions are discriminatory.

Active measures against discrimination

The Act also includes an obligation for the employer to investigate any situation where the employer receives knowledge that an employee deems himself/herself to have been subjected to discrimination. If the conclusion of such an investigation is that an employee has been discriminated, the employer shall take any reasonable action to prevent discrimination from occurring in the future.

It shall also be mentioned that if a job applicant has not been employed or selected for an employment interview, or if an employee has not been promoted or selected for education/training or for promotion, the applicant shall, upon request, receive written information from the employer about the education, professional experience and other qualifications that the person had who was selected for the employment interview or who obtained the job or the place in education/training.

An employer should also work actively to bring about equal rights and opportunities in the working life regardless of the grounds of discrimination. The regulation concerning the general obligation of employers to promote equality includes an obligation to every three years survey and analyze if there are any unreasonable differences between the salaries of men and women. If the employer has more than 25 employees the obligation also includes to draw up an action plan for gender equality, which includes a plan for equal pay between men and women. These rules are not sanctioned by damages. However, the Equality Ombudsman has the authority to ensure compliance in this area and may order an employer to carry out certain actions or risk being fined by the Board against Discrimination.

Other legislation

In the context of discrimination, it is also worth mentioning that there are two other Acts of interest. First of all, the Parental Leave Act stipulates a prohibition against disadvantaging employees on parental leave, which can be seen as a regulation within discrimination. Second, there is the Act Against Discrimination of Employees Working Part-time or on Fixed-term Agreements. This act prohibits both direct and indirect discrimination of part-time and fixed-term employees. Again, an agreement is invalid to the extent that its provisions are discriminatory. In addition, an employee who has been the victim of discrimination is entitled to receive damages, both for the offence itself and for any economic loss that the discrimination has caused.