Working life

Your employer may not discriminate against you in your capacity as an employee, a job-seeker, a trainee or a school pupil in a work experience position. You are also protected by law if you have been hired temporarily or borrowed from another employer.

In addition, you are protected against discrimination when visiting an employment office or taking part in a course there, when in contact with your union or an employer organisation, when starting your own business and applying for grants, when seeking formal recognition as a professional and when in contact with your unemployment fund.

The Equality Ombudsman (DO) ensures compliance with the Discrimination Act. If you have been discriminated against in working life and this is related to your sex, transgender identity or expression, ethnicity, religion or other belief, disability, sexual orientation or age, you can report the matter to the Ombudsman or to your union if the discrimination occurs at your workplace.

If you have been treated unfairly for taking parental leave, you can report this either to the Ombudsman or to your union.

Who may file a complaint?

You can report discrimination if you are an employee or a job-seeker, or are working for the employer as temporary or borrowed labour. Trainees and school pupils in a work experience position can also report discrimination. If you are on parental leave, you can report your employer if he or she has treated you unfairly in connection with your leave. You can also report discrimination in connection with being given notice to quit.

In addition, you are protected against discrimination when visiting an employment office or taking part in a course there, when in contact with your union or an employer organisation, when starting your own business and applying for grants, when seeking formal recognition as a professional and when in contact with your unemployment fund.

Discrimination is prohibited if it is related to your

  • sex
  • transgender identity or expression
  • ethnicity
  • religion or other belief
  • disability
  • sexual orientation, or
  • age

What can I report?

Discrimination is present when you are treated less favourably at work because you are bisexual, for instance, or because you were born in a country other than Sweden. Alternatively, an employer may be harassing you.

There is also indirect discrimination. One example is when rules that are seemingly neutral in fact place people from a certain group, such as women, at a disadvantage. Nor may an employer order someone else at the workplace to discriminate against you.

You are protected against discrimination not only at work but in a broader sense as well. Prohibition of discrimination also applies in connection with the following:

  • Labour market policy activities (such as government relief programmes or employment services, private or public)
  • Membership of certain organisations (such as an employer or union body)
  • When starting or running a business or seeking formal recognition as a professional (for instance government grants for business  start-ups or the issuing of professional authorisation etcetera)
  • Unemployment insurance

Examples of discrimination in working life

Here are some examples of what may constitute discrimination or unfair treatment in working life and which you can report to the Equality Ombudsman.

  • You are paid less than a colleague performing the same work or work of equal value, and you believe this is related to your sex.
  • You are granted a job interview but are not given the job although you have good qualifications. You suspect that this may be because the employer disliked the fact that you came dressed in women's clothing.
  • You are not granted a job interview although you have good qualifications, because the employer assumes from your name that your ethnic origin is not Swedish.
  • Your employer calls you “the whoopsie” or “the poof”. When you react, she says this is “only in fun” and that you need to “relax” a bit.
  • You have applied for a higher position at work but have not been given it. You suspect that this is because you use a wheelchair.
  • Your employer says that while you have the right qualifications, you are “too young” to be made a manager.
  • You “missed out” on the pay review when you were on parental leave.
  • You are not given a grant to start your own business because you are considered too old.
  • Your trial term of employment was terminated when you became pregnant.
  • You are asked during a job interview whether you have AIDS. You suspect this is because you are an Afro-Swede.
  • Your same-sex partner is not invited to staff parties, although heterosexual colleagues are allowed to bring their partners.
  • You are paid less than other employees and you suspect this is because you have impaired vision.
  • Your employer makes unwelcome sexual advances.
  • An employment service fails to seek a job on your behalf because it feels that companies are unwilling to employ people of non-Swedish ethnic origin.

Punishment is forbidden

If you have reported your employer, an employment office, a union or similar for discrimination, you may not be punished for doing so, i.e. subjected to reprisals. Punishment or reprisals may involve being ordered to work excessive overtime, being given a heavier workload or unskilled duties, or an employment office refusing to help you find a job. Nor may an employer subject you to reprisals if for instance you point out that he or she is not taking active steps to prevent discrimination.

What is harassment?

You have the right not to be subjected to harassment at work. This applies whether the person harassing you is an employer or another employee.

You also have the right not to be harassed when visiting your employment office, for instance, or dealing with your union.

What constitutes harassment?

Harassment is behaviour that violates a person’s integrity or dignity. Such behaviour is prohibited if it is related to your:

  • sex
  • transgender identity or expression
  • ethnicity
  • religion or other belief
  • disability
  • sexual orientation, or
  • age

Harassment may for instance involve using contemptuous or degrading generalisations about “female”, “homosexual” or “Bosnian” behaviour or characteristics. Or it could involve someone being called “wog”, “spazz”, “poof”, “whore” or the like. Alternatively, it could involve withholding or concealing information related to one or other of the grounds for discrimination.

What the various forms of harassment have in common is that they make the person feel insulted, threatened, abused or unfairly treated.

Harassment is an unwelcome type of behaviour. It is you as the victim who decides what is insulting or abusive. The same type of behaviour may be considered harassment by one person while another may not find it disturbing at all.

If you have been subjected to other types of violations, such as bullying at work, for instance, you should contact your employer or your union safety representative. The Ombudsman does not supervise legislation in this area.

What constitutes sexual harassment?

Harassment may also be of a sexual nature, in which case it is referred to as sexual harassment. This covers things like touching, pawing, jokes, suggestions, looks, jargon or images that are sexually allusive.

Sexual harassment differs from ordinary flirting in that it is unwelcome. It is you as the victim who decides what is abusive or insulting and what for instance makes you feel insecure at the workplace.

Speak out!

The law states that the person responsible for the harassment must be conscious of the fact that their behaviour is experienced as harassing. It is the victim who decides what feels abusive or insulting. So it is important that you as the victim make clear to the person who is harassing you that their behaviour is unpleasant and unwelcome and that it must stop. You can do so verbally, in writing or with the help of someone you trust. In certain, serious cases, you do not need to protest for the person’s behaviour to be deemed harassment under the law.

Harassment may be discrimination

If an employer subjects you to harassment, this is classed as discrimination under the law. This also applies if the employer tells someone else to harass you. In such cases, you can report your employer to your union or to the Equality Ombudsman. Employer is defined here as someone in a managerial position.

If a fellow-employee subjects you to harassment, this is not counted as discrimination under the law. However, an employer who has learned that someone feels harassed at the workplace is required to investigate the matter and, if the harassment is confirmed, to put a stop to it. Harassment between employees, therefore, is to be reported to the employer, who is obliged to take action. In other words, harassment is always the responsibility of your employer.

If you are harassed by someone working at an employment office, a union or an employer organisation, a company or organisation providing grants for business start-ups, a government agency granting professional authorisation/recognition, or an unemployment fund, this is always counted as discrimination. It is the company, the organisation or the agency that may be liable to pay compensation for discrimination in such cases.

Your employer’s responsibility

Your employer is required to take preventive action to ensure that harassment does not occur at your workplace. Employers with 25 or more employees must have a policy and a contingency plan detailing their work against both sexual harassment and harassment related to sex, ethnicity, religion or other belief.

Employers who learn that someone is experiencing harassment at the workplace must investigate and, if confirmed, put a stop to it. Should the employer fail to do so, you can report this to your union or to the Equality Ombudsman. 

You have a right not to be punished for filing a complaint!

If for instance you have reported you employer, your union or your employment office for harassment, you are entitled not to be subjected to reprisals, i.e. punished (being ordered to work excessive overtime, for example, or being given a heavier workload or unskilled duties, or being refused help by an employment office etcetera). This applies in certain other situations as well, for instance if you have reported an employer because he or she is not taking active steps to prevent sexual harassment or harassment related to sex, ethnicity, religion or other belief, as required by the Discrimination Act.

If you are subjected to reprisals, you can report this to your union or to the Equality Ombudsman.

How do I file a complaint?

If you feel that you have been discriminated against by for instance your employer, your union or your employment office, and this is related to your sex, transgender identity or expression, ethnicity, religion or other belief, disability, sexual orientation or age, you can report the matter to the Equality Ombudsman (DO).

You can also file a complaint if you feel you have been treated unfairly in connection with parental leave, or if an employer is not taking active steps to prevent discrimination.

You can report your employer if he or she has failed to investigate a complaint about harassment or has failed to take action against harassment at the workplace.

Have you as someone with a disability been refused reasonable adaptation measures at your workplace? In that case you can report the matter to the Equality Ombudsman.

It is always the employer, the union or the employment office, for instance, that is responsible for the situation there. So you can report any of them to the Ombudsman, but you cannot report a private individual.

How to proceed

You can only file a complaint if it is you personally who feels discriminated against or unfairly treated. Complaints must be in writing and include your name, address, telephone number, and preferably your email address, plus the name of the employer, employment office or union (whichever is appropriate). Also, describe why you think you have been discriminated against.

Report the matter promptly. If too much time elapses between the discrimination/unfair treatment and the complaint, the right to legal action may expire, which means it will no longer be possible for the Equality Ombudsman to investigate the case. Events that occurred more than two years earlier are not usually investigated.

Complaints about discrimination, harassment and unfair treatment of employees on parental leave are investigated by the Ombudsman’s case officers. If you belong to a union, the Ombudsman must first ask that union if it wishes to represent you in the dispute. If the union does not wish to represent you, or you do not want it to, the Ombudsman investigates the case. The Ombudsman adopts a neutral stance, which means it draws on information both from the person who reported the matter and from whoever was the subject of the complaint. If the investigations shows discrimination or unfair treatment can be assumed to have occurred, the Ombudsman first tries to negotiate a voluntary agreement – a settlement – between you and, say, your employer. This may involve a pay rise, an apology, financial compensation or training measures. Should you and, in this case, your employer fail to reach a settlement, the Equality Ombudsman can take the matter to the Labour Court. 

Punishment is forbidden

If you have reported your employer, employment office, union or similar for discrimination, you must not be punished, i.e. subjected to reprisals. Examples of punishment or reprisals include being ordered to work excessive overtime, being given a heavier workload or unskilled duties, or being refused help by an employment office. Nor may an employer subject you to reprisals if for instance you point out that she or he has not taken preventive action against discrimination.

If you are subjected to reprisals, you can report this to the Equality Ombudsman.

Public document

The Equality Ombudsman is a government agency. This means that your complaint is registered and becomes a public document that both the general public and the media have access to. In special circumstances, the Equality Ombudsman is allowed to classify data as secret, which means the document is not released.

If you have questions concerning the filing of complaints and how this is done, please feel free to contact the Equality Ombudsman and to ask an investigating officer for advice.