The anti-discrimination legislation consists of the Discrimination Act, which prohibits both direct and indirect discrimination as well as harassment in working life based on gender, gender identity or expression, ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, sexual orientation and age.
Furthermore, employers may neither discriminate against part-time nor fixed-term employees, nor treat an applicant or an employee unfairly on grounds related to parental leave under Swedish law. Trade union representatives are also protected from discrimination based on their union activities.
Extent of Protection
Discrimination according to the Discrimination Act is defined as:
- Direct discrimination: when someone is disadvantaged by being treated less favourably than someone else is treated, has been treated or would have been treated in a comparable situation, if the disadvantage is associated with any of the protected grounds.
- Indirect discrimination: when someone is disadvantaged by the application of a provision, a criterion or a procedure that appears neutral but that may put people of any of the protected grounds at a particular disadvantage, unless the provision, criterion or procedure has a legitimate purpose and the means that are used are appropriate and necessary to achieve that purpose.
- Inadequate accessibility: when a person with disability is disadvantaged through a failure to take measures for accessibility.
- Harassment: conduct that violates a person’s dignity and that is associated with one of the following grounds of discrimination: sex; gender identity or expression; ethnicity; religion or other belief; disability; sexual orientation; or age.
- Sexual harassment: conduct of a sexual nature that violates someone’s dignity.
- Instructions to discriminate: orders or instructions to discriminate against someone in a manner referred to in points 1–4.
The Discrimination Act also prohibits reprisals.
Protections Against Harassment
The employer is required to work with active measures and to take preventive actions against discrimination, reprisals and other hindrance of equal rights and opportunities in their business. Employers with 25 or more employees must have a policy and a contingency plan detailing their work with such active measures. If an employer becomes aware that an employee considers that he or she has been subjected to harassment or sexual harassment in connection with work by someone performing work at the employer’s establishment, the employer is obliged to investigate the circumstances surrounding the alleged harassment and where appropriate take the measures that can reasonably be demanded to prevent harassment in the future. This obligation also applies with respect to a person carrying out a traineeship or performing work as temporary or borrowed labour.
Employer’s Obligation to Provide Reasonable Accommodations
According to the Discrimination Act an employer that provides inadequate accessibility, meaning that a person with disability is disadvantaged through a failure to take measures for accessibility to enable the person to come into a situation comparable with that of persons without this disability where such measures are reasonable, can be liable to pay damages. The prohibition of discrimination in the form of inadequate accessibility does not apply to a person enquiring about work. In addition, the Working Environment Act obliges the employer to adjust the company operations to the employee’s individual possibilities and needs.
The employer can be incurred liability to compensate the employee for discrimination according to the Discrimination Act. Furthermore, if someone is discriminated against by a provision in an individual contract or in a collective bargaining agreement in a manner that is prohibited under the Discrimination Act, the provision shall be modified or declared invalid if the discriminated person requests this.
The Equality Ombudsman’s task is to supervise compliance with the Discrimination Act. An employer may be obliged to investigate and take measures against harassment at the order of the Equality Ombudsman. If such order is not complied with the Equality Ombudsman can issue an order to fulfil the obligation subject to a financial penalty.
Affirmative action is not considered discrimination, i.e., it is not discriminatory to make a decision of hiring, promotion or education based on one of the protected grounds, if such a decision is appropriate and necessary to achieve a legitimate aim in the business. Affirmative action may also be taken to, e.g., promote equality between women and men on matters other than salary or other terms of employment. There are, however, no quotas set forth in statute.