The Non-Discrimination Act (1325/2014) contains provisions on the promotion of equal opportunities and prohibits discrimination based on age, ethnicity, nationality, language, religion, belief, opinion, health, disability, sexual orientation or other personal characteristics. The Criminal Law Act (39/1889) prohibits discrimination in employment and business, among other things.
According to section 2, subsection 1 of the Non-Discrimination Act, the Act applies to both public and private activities and therefore also to businesses. Section 10 of the Non-Discrimination Act stipulates that direct discrimination is at hand when someone has been treated, is treated or would be treated less favourably than someone else in a comparable situation because of personal characteristics.
Differential treatment is not unlawful discrimination under section 11, subsection 1 of the Non-Discrimination Act if it is based on the law and is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.
However, under subsection 2 of section 11, it is lawful to treat someone differently even when no provisions concerning justifications exist, as long as the treatment has a legitimate aim from a civil liberties and human rights point of view, or if it concerns other just, pressing societal aims. In such cases, the means required to achieve the aim must also be proportionate. For example, preventing exclusion of young people and promoting equality of linguistic minority or providing discounts for the elderly do not count in principle as discrimination, because these actions are carried out in pursuit of a legitimate aim from a basic right point of view. Legitimate aims include promoting linguistic and cultural rights, non-discrimination and equality, and the rights of children and minorities. Discrimination based on religion is explicitly prohibited under section 8 of the Non-Discrimination Act.
A person who provides services or goods must promote the equality of all service recipients and prevent their discrimination. Such a person has a right earn a living through trade under Section 18 of the Constitution of Finland. In accordance with this and the right to property protection, which is guaranteed in subsection 1 of section 15, a trader has the right to direct their services at a limited group of people in line with their business idea, provided that the treatment is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. For example, a restaurant can set age restrictions for entry without this counting as unlawful discrimination because of age, according to a Government Bill (HE 19/2014 vp s. 75).
The National Non-Discrimination and Equality Board concluded that a person who provides goods or services cannot use the rules of a religious community, including church policy, as a justification for discrimination. The Board found that the shopping centre’s policy was not a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim from a civil liberties and human rights point of view. The Board also noted in its decision that the marriage ceremony could have taken place as a civil ceremony. The Board concluded that the shopping centre’s policy had discriminated against the applicant because of religion and told the shopping centre not to continue or repeat such discrimination.
As the shopping centre’s example shows, good judgement should be used when planning events. The purpose of the Non-Discrimination Act is to promote equality and prevent discrimination, as well as enhance legal protection of discrimination victims. A person who runs a business should also keep these aims in mind in their daily activities. If a policy or activities can objectively be considered as discriminatory - it usually is unlawful discrimination.