Rights and duties of employees

Updated on 4 February, 2021

Can an employer cancel a promised summer job because of the coronavirus epidemic?

Once an employment contract has been made, the employer may terminate the employment of a summer employee only on grounds of redundancy or personal misconduct, and must observe the period of notice. It is irrelevant that the work has not yet begun. The coronavirus epidemic does not affect this basic principle.

An employment contract does not have to be made in writing. The employer can also be bound by a promise of employment made by word of mouth or communicated by e-mail.

An employer who really has no work to provide over the summer may dismiss the employee or notify a layoff (furlough). In such cases the employer must state the reason for dismissal or layoff, such as financial problems that emerged after the employment contract was made due to the coronavirus epidemic. The employer must also determine whether any other work is available for the employee, or whether the employee can be trained for other duties.

A temporary change in the law that took effect at the beginning of April now also allows temporary employees (including summer employees) to be laid off. This legal change also allows employers to make temporary employees redundant with immediate effect during an initial trial period. The change in the law and in corresponding collective agreement regulations will remain in effect until the end of June, but they do not apply to work in central and local government or the church. See Temporary changes in regulations governing layoff and other terms and conditions of employment for further details.

It is important to register as a jobseeker at the TE Office by no later than the very first day of unemployment if your job is terminated either with or without notice, or if you are laid off. You should then apply for unemployment benefit from your unemployment fund or from Kela. See the section on unemployment benefit for further details.

If no employment contract has yet been made, then an employer can withdraw a summer job that has been advertised or offered with no dismissal or layoff procedure. Summer job applicants then have no other option than to look elsewhere for work.

The summer job information service website of SAK, Akava and STTK provides further details of employment questions related to summer work. You may also call the information service free of charge as of 4 May (tel. 0800 179 279, Mon – Fri 9 am – 3 pm).

Can an employer prohibit a healthy employee from coming to work?

Employees have the right to work as specified in their employment contract. An employer can, however, prohibit an employee from coming to work. This type of order does not release the employer from the obligation to pay wages and salaries. Thus, during the period that the employee is forced to remain at home, the employer must pay the same wages or salary as is paid when the employee is at the workplace.

Employees should be given the right to work remotely as much as is possible.

Employers cannot force employees to undergo coronavirus testing.

Can an employee opt to stay home from work as a means of preventing the risk of catching coronavirus?

A fear of infection does not entitle an employee to stay home from work. Employees can only be absent from work if such an arrangement has been agreed on. The employees and employer must agree on the payment of wages or salaries if the employees stay home from work on their own initiative. In this situation, however, the employer generally does not need to pay any wages or salary.

May I continue working or discontinue teleworking and return to my normal workplace if I belong to a high risk group?

Your doctor will provide a certificate stating that you are at risk of a serious coronavirus infection if you belong to a high risk group. Give this certificate to your employer and request an assessment of whether you can perform your duties safely at work. If the workplace risk assessment indicates that you can work safely, then you may return to work while complying with general precautions taken to combat coronavirus infection. The risk assessment will consider the prospects for using protective equipment and taking other control measures.

If the risk of contracting coronavirus infection is significant, then the employer should transfer you to duties in which you are not exposed to the virus. If this is not possible, then the employer may lay you off. However, a layoff requires that the employer has no work to provide. If work is available, you can agree to be laid off, but in that case you are not entitled to unemployment benefit.

What should a healthy employee do when a child, spouse or elderly parent falls ill?

An employee is entitled to take unpaid leave of absence for pressing family reasons. An employee may take temporary child care leave to care for a younger child who has fallen ill. Many collective agreements prescribe payment for such leave.

The Social Insurance Institution (Kela) may pay epidemic support when a child’s parent or guardian, or a spouse thereof living in the same household, has had to take unpaid leave of absence to care for the child due to the coronavirus epidemic. See the segment below Who is eligible for Kela epidemic support due to unpaid absence from work? for further details.

You may also agree with an employer on teleworking or on the use of annual leave in order to care for a spouse or elderly parent.

Can employees travel for work?

Employers make the decisions regarding business trips. The Government recommends avoiding unnecessary travel to countries other than those that are exempt from entry restrictions. These countries are green on the map of the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL). If you arrive in Finland from a country that is red or grey on the map, THL recommends a 14-day self-quarantine.

Instead of business trips, meetings and other gatherings can be held via video conferencing and other remote connections.

Kela also pays the sickness allowance on account of an infectious disease to employees travelling elsewhere within the EU if the local authorities have ordered the employee into quarantine or isolation.

Can an employer force employees to carry out emergency work? 

Employers can force employees to carry out emergency work, if the conditions for emergency work are met. The shop steward must be heard in situations that concern the initiation of emergency work.

Does the coronavirus situation entitle an employer to limit employee travel during their free time?

An employer cannot limit the amount that employees travel within Finland during their free time. Decisions concerning restrictions to travel within the country are made by the authorities.

When can an employer lay off employees due to coronavirus?

Coronavirus can cause a reduction in work and this situation may entitle the employer to lay off employees. The conditions for lay-offs and terminations must be met in this situation. Lay-offs are the primary response. Co-operation negotiations must be held in accordance with the law.

What income support is available to employees during changes at work caused by the coronavirus epidemic?

Kela will pay an infection allowance when the applicable conditions are met (see Avoiding coronavirus infection and falling ill).

Employers will pay normal wages for teleworking hours, and for any time when the employer has prevented the employee from working.

Employees who have been laid off (furloughed), or who are otherwise prevented from working within the meaning of the Unemployment Security Act are entitled to unemployment benefit. The employee must register as an unemployed jobseeker and satisfy the other conditions for receiving unemployment benefit.

You are also entitled to normal pay and sickness benefits under the law and collective agreement when you are ill, or caring for a sick child, for reasons unrelated to coronavirus.

Can the employer order employees to take their annual holiday or to cancel an already agreed holiday? 

Coronavirus does not entitle employers to deviate from the Annual Holidays Act or collective bargaining agreements. An already approved annual holiday cannot be withdrawn because of the coronavirus situation. Any cancellation of a holiday requires the consent of the employee.

Information from authorities

Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland – Questions and answers concerning travel and coronavirus

Finnish Immigration Service Information about the effects of the coronavirus on applying for a residence permit and other operations

Information provided by the trade unions and other labour market organisations

Construction Trade Union

Finnish Food Workers’ Union SEL: SEL’s regional offices will close, and events and trips abroad will be cancelled until 31.5.2020

Finnish Musicians’ Union: Coronavirus – impact on Finnish music industry

Industrial Union: Industrial Union to cancel all internal events

Service Union United PAM: Answers to service sector employees on how the spread of the coronavirus might affect their job