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Religious clothing at workplace

In general, Finnish legislation supports wearing religious clothing in public space, following the international agreements on human rights that secure wearing of religious clothing. Provisions on equal treatment and freedom of religion obligate government officials to secure the enforcement of those rights.

The Constitution of Finland confirms the human rights commitments to which Finland has joined. It is stated in the first section of the Constitution of Finland (Suomen perustuslaki 731/1999, §1) that the Finnish constitution protects the inviolability of human dignity and the freedom and rights of an individual and promotes justice in society. This section indicates the values of the Finnish legislation and activity. It is therefore the base for the interpretation of the rest of the legislation and societal activity.

The policies concerning religious clothing can be interpreted from several provisions in the constitution. §11 of the Constitution of Finland (Suomen perustuslaki 731/1999, §11) protects the right for everyone to express religion and conviction. In principle, this provision gives everyone the possibility to express their conviction also in their clothing both privately and publicly. The provision concerning the freedom of religion and conscience does not include a separate restriction clause.

§6 of the constitution (Suomen perustuslaki 731, §6) protects the equitable treatment of everyone. It is meant for eliminating inequality and advancing equal treatment and justice. Also, the Non-Discrimination law decreed in 2014 aims at advancing equal treatment. Unequal treatment may be possible when there is an attempt to advance the position and opportunities of a population that is in a weaker position with so-called positive special treatment. (Yhdenvertaisuuslaki 1325/2014.)

§17 of the constitution protects especially the rights of minority communities living in Finland permanently. While it has not yet been used in relation to religious clothing, it may be possible to see it being referred to, especially along with multiculturalisation.

Furthermore, §10 of the constitution concerns the protection of privacy. It protects the right for everyone to decide for themselves and for their relationships with other people and to what extent they want to appear in the public. Everyone has the right to be treated respectfully by others. The basis for protection of privacy is in individuals having the right to live their own life without arbitrary interference of authorities or other quarters. Still, §22 of the constitution binds public authority to protect the fulfilment of the basic rights and human rights, reinforcing the duty of authorities. (Suomen perustuslaki 731/1999, §10, §22.)

The rights that are protected by the constitution are not easily limited. However, the basic rights are not absolute in a sense that they could not be limited in any circumstances or to any extent. Limitations should be based on the law and be precise and clearly defined. (Suomen perustuslaki 731/1999, §23.)

Wearing religious clothing at work is not limited in general and the employer does not have the right to deny employees from expressing their conviction. For example, considering religious clothing as unsuitable for the company image is not an acceptable reason to deny wearing religious accessories. (Non-Discrimination Act/Yhdenvertaisuuslaki 1325/2014, §12.)

Some employers require their employees to wear uniforms, but unlike in some other countries, widespread discussion on limiting the wearing of religious clothing has not reached Finland thus far. Some individual cases have been resolved in the 2010s. For example, in 2014 there was a discussion on the possibility for bus drivers to wear a Sikh turban. The interpretation of the employment contract conditions was outlined so that wearing a turban is possible. Prohibition of turbans would have been discrimination according to Non-Discrimination Act. Also, it could not have been indicated that turban has relevance for occupational safety. Workers may wear a turban indicated by the employer, or if that option is not available, they may use their own turban.

Following ECHR’s declaration, religious clothing can be limited for safety and health reasons when concrete reasons demand it. In Finland, the municipal federation of HUS (Helsinki University Hospital) has outlined that religious clothing is accepted at work in general but restricted at some special duties. For example, at the operating theatre and at the food supply it is not permissible to wear one’s own headgear, as the employer has appointed a protective clothing to be used. The City of Helsinki has outlined that everyone is to wear working clothes required for the standards of hygiene and safety (e.g. hospital, kitchen, parks, and cleaning workers). Otherwise, the city does not intervene in the clothing of its workers, so for example teachers are permitted to wear headscarves.

In certain official duties, coherent uniforms are required. The clothing of police is precisely defined in a decree (Sisäministeriön asetus poliisin virkapuvusta 1106/2013). The uniform displays the position of its holder and the responsibility to use the public authority. In Finland, the police uniform does not include religious headgear but a certain coherent headgear that is required to be used by every police. The National Defence Forces have instructed clothing with Service Statutes. (Yleinen palveluohjesääntö 2017, 18-19) Soldiers are to wear clothes followed by the orders concerning soldiers and uniforms. For example, having a beard, moustache, or long hair for men is forbidden as well as wearing other than the soldier headgear. Also wearing jewellery and piercings is forbidden, except discreet earrings for women.

Wearing religious clothing at public duties is possible when wearing a uniform is not required. This also concerns teaching staff. Teachers have the right to express their conviction, cultural background and religion while being bound to the curriculums and policies of the school and respecting the convictions of their students. In Finland, prohibiting religious veils in early childhood education and schoolwork has not been seen necessary.

While permitting the religious clothing in work assignments is the basis, worker is to respect the rights of the employer as well. Employer again has the responsibility for the fulfilment of freedom of religion and conviction, and non-discrimination at the workplace. The judicial decisions point out the aim for reciprocal flexibility and the search for a mutual solution.

The public space in Finland is open to various religious, cultural and lingual traditions and not declared irreligious. The possibility to express identity, including with clothing, is seen as part of democracy as far as it does not violate other people’s rights. Instead of aiming to prohibit the visibility of religion in public space, Finnish policy encourages the possibility to express one’s religion and conviction publicly including with clothing. The fulfilment of non-discrimination and equitable treatment include the possibility for minorities’ habits and traditions to be visible in public space. While Finnish legislation does not give much space for prohibiting religious clothing in public space, in practice there may be latent discrimination and discriminatory structures that hamper the employment of people wearing religious clothing.

Sources
- Kotiranta, Matti (2016) Law and Religion in the Workplace (Finland), pp. 155-176, in Miguel Rodrigues Blanco (2016) (ed.) Law and Religion in the Workplace. Law_and_Religion_in_the_Workplace_book.pdf (churchstate.eu).
- Sorsa, Leena (2018) Uskonnolliset tavat ja julkinen tila Suomessa. Kirkon tutkimuskeskuksen verkkojulkaisuja 55. Tampere: Kirkon tutkimuskeskus.
- See also: Uskonnonvapauslaki (1922) Uskonnonvapauslaki 267/1922 - Säädökset alkuperäisinä - FINLEX ®.

D 25 June 2021    AAnita Sipilä

CNRS Unistra Dres Gsrl

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