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Heavy price for discrimination-based dismissals

Litigation over job dismissals has earned those dismissed as much as thousands of Euros compensation. Conditions attached to resignation offer should be carefully scrutinised before accepting.

The management of Esan Kirjapaino, publisher of Etelä-Suomen Sanomat is figuring out what went wrong in the newspaper’s employees’ dismissals last year. The court case brought by six dismissed elderly workers cost the newspaper 300 000€ including all expenses. As an extra bonus came public shame and the stigma of a bad employer. Insofar as the ruling does not change the publisher of Etla joins a growing group which has lost court cases of discrimination-related dismissals against members of the Union of Finnish Journalists (SJL).

A court case that the publisher of A-lehti lost in the first round last winter was also instance of age discrimination. Also the restructuring of Kauppalehti targeting older workers led to a long process.

A case of discrimination was ruled by a District Court the case of Sunniva Strömnäs whose previous work experience was nullified and her trial period terminated after just a day of working as chief editor of Peppar &Papper. The newspaper has since gone bankrupt after paying compensation and legal expenses.

The Court of Appeal ruled that Johanna Korhonen was discriminated against due to her sexual orientation when she was given a sudden dismissal from Lapin Kansa even before she assumed work.

Apart from the judicial thinking on them, the cases of discrimination indicate an intensive energetic work on interest protection.

The Union of Journalists in Finland (SJL) may be the only trade union which has especially pursued age discrimination at the courts. Age is not a basis for focusing on a dismissal case. In addition to the condition of service system, we have wanted to the courts to provide a decision on whether the law concerning the general obligation in the termination of employment in the condition service has been broken, says director at SJL Petri Savolainen.

But how realistic is it that an employee will take a case of suspected case of discrimination to court?

“The response is found in the results that have been achieved in the cases. A District Court always examines individual status of employment so that litigation has be acceptable to both parties. The willingness to litigate has not been lacking. Usually the fired worker has nothing to lose, and neither has pursuing one’s rights in court been an obstacle to securing another job in the future.

“The problem instead has been that there are no people willing to get involved in litigation over the legality of chains of temporary employment cases. And in the rare instances that such cases have been taken to court the employer has rushed to secure a negotiated settlement with the plaintiff”.

“The possibility of trade unions to initiate class action court cases would have given us better opportunity the fight for the interests of short-term contract workers”, says Savolainen.

Resignation and pension packages have become widespread in the big restructuring activities of the last years even before employer-employee negotiations on restructuring were decided upon or begun.  If a worker signs for such a package he has practically lost the possibility to initiate a court case over the basis of his termination of appointment.

The SJL urges people to be very careful with the packages and the promises attached to them. In the worse case the package can be a loss to the recipient. That happens when the “golden shake” is very small. Again the package in any case leads to a longer waiting period for unemployment benefits.

“The packages are mainly suitable for those proceeding to full retirement or those who already have a new job at hand before their appointment is terminated. The main thing is that it is not worth rushing no matter how the employer tries to speed up the signing of such an agreement”, says Petri Savolainen.

Etelä-Suomen Sanomat marketed the firing of the elderly journalists by also making reference to the pension arrangement. The court affirmed that the company did not clarify this either.

Translated and edited by Linus Atarah

Original article: http://www.journalistiliitto.fi/journalisti/lehti/2010/17/artikkelit/rahakkaita-laksiaislahjoja/