Do you suspect that all is not well in your employment?

You can’t always be sure how things should go in the world of work. We have set out ten warning signs that there may be some problem in employment or at a workplace.
07.02. 09:38
SAK
Photo: Edwin Tan / iStock

Several cases involving systematic violations of employee rights have been reported recently in Finland. One common feature of these cases is that the employees were unsure of what is normal and what is not. These situations can continue for a long time when employees do not know where to get help.

Ten warning signs that all is not well at work

1. Do you have a written employment contract?

Your employer should make a written employment contract with you when you start a new job. While oral contracts are legal, they make it hard to prove what was agreed when employment problems arise.

You should also make sure that you really are an employee. Work done through online platforms, for example, may be based on a partnership or assignment contract. While this may resemble an employment contract, it is legally an agreement between businesses that fails to include many employee protections, such as a period of notice or the right to compensation for work-related injuries. SAK is currently campaigning for a legal ban on the practice of disguising business agreements as employment.

What details should I look for in a contract?
How can I know whether I am an employee or self-employed?

2. Does your employment contract include unpaid on-the-job training?

Unpaid internships are only legal when they are arranged through an official educational institution or the Employment and Economic Development Office (TE Office). A trial period can be included in the employment contract if an employer wishes to test the suitability of an employee. The employee must be paid for work done during the trial period.

3. Have you been offered zero working hours?

Offering zero hours of work is not illegal, and may even suit the personal circumstances of students and other employee groups. But if your actual working hours are regularly more substantial and you have told the employer that you want to work more, then it’s worthwhile discussing your options with a shop steward. On the other hand, an employer cannot arbitrarily withhold your pay for the agreed minimum working hours set out in your employment contract, even if the need for this work changes.

What is a zero-hour employment contract?

4. Are your wages low?

Wages for work must primarily be paid in cash. For example, the price of equipment required for work or the value of items that you accidentally break cannot be deducted from your wages. Your wages must be specified in the employment contract and paid on the agreed date.

Even though there is no legal minimum wage in Finland, a collective agreement for the industry determines the wages payable for various types of work. The minimum wages specified in a collective agreement apply to all employees in the industry concerned.

What is a collective agreement?

5. Do you get paid less than others at your workplace?

Everyone must be paid the same for the same work. If you are paid less than a workmate with the same skills and experience doing the same job, then you may be a victim of illegal discrimination.

How to recognise discrimination?

6. Do you have to do unpaid or involuntary overtime work?

An employer is not allowed to reduce or increase the working hours agreed in your employment contract arbitrarily. Overtime must be specially agreed with the employer, and an employee cannot be penalised for refusing it. Special compensation must be paid for overtime work.

You also cannot be required to perform duties such as cleaning the workplace on your own time.

What compensation should be paid for overtime?

7. Are you too busy to take a break?

Breaks may not be continually cancelled or moved to the end of a shift, for example. You must have a 30-minute meal break if you work for longer than 6 hours. Working days of less than six hours also generally include some break. You must be able to take a break, even if you work alone.

What are the mandatory breaks and rest periods at work?

8. Is your workplace dangerous or unhygienic?

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, an employer must make sure that nothing in the workplace causes an accident or illness. The employer must also insure you against accidents and occupational illnesses. For example, you will be eligible for insurance compensation if you are injured during work-related travel or at a workplace.

9. Have you been threatened with dismissal?

It is illegal to threaten dismissal because, for example, you do not want to work overtime. If you have made a mistake, then you must first be given a warning and an opportunity to correct the problem or change your behaviour. You can only be fired without warning for very serious misconduct.

When is it possible to dismiss an employee?

10. Are you afraid at work?

Everyone is entitled to respect for their physical integrity, meaning that you should never experience violence or intimidation under any circumstances.

An employer has a duty to prevent violent or threatening situations at work, and to ensure the safety of employees. For example, if your work involves a threat of emotional or physical violence from customers, then your initial job orientation should include ways of anticipating threats and protecting yourself from them.

Where can I get help?

The first step is to try to inform your supervisor or the business proprietor about the shortcomings of your work, and to give them an opportunity to put things right. If several workmates at your workplace have recognised the same problems, then it is worthwhile tackling the issue as a group.

If this approach fails or nothing changes, then you may seek help from specialists who know the world of work. Gather as much evidence as possible about the problems. Written employment contracts, e-mail correspondence and photographs can support your account of events and working conditions where necessary.

If you belong to a trade union

Seek advice from the shop steward for your workplace and union. A shop steward is a workmate elected by the union members at a workplace to represent the employees and the union.

You may also report problems to your elected safety representative, who supervises issues related to employee safety and knows the relevant laws in this area.

Consult the regional office of your union or call its helpline if there is no shop steward or elected safety representative at your workplace.

If you are not a union member

Ask your workmates or elected safety representative for advice. If the problem is not resolved, then you can seek advice from the occupational health and safety authority, or from the SAK employee rights advisory service to help you get started. All advice is confidential, and the advisory service will not contact your employer.

The SAK website Fairplayatwork.fi includes an ABC guide to working in Finland. The comprehensive guide provides information in Finnish, English and Swedish. This information is also available in a more concise form in 20 other languages: Arabic, Burmese, Chinese, Dari, Estonian, Farsi, French, German, Kurdish (Sorani), Latvian, Nepali, Polish, Russian, Somali, Spanish, Tagalog, Thai, Turkish, Ukrainian and Vietnamese.

The SAK employee rights hotline advises young employees and employees of foreign origin with questions or problems concerning their employment. This free service is open to all and does not require trade union membership.