What is generally meant by diversity in the workplace in your jurisdiction?

Diversity in the workplace aims to minimise inequalities within a company which may relate to different factors, including the sex, cultural and geographical or ethnic backgrounds, religion, sexual orientation, education, age and political views of employees. It also involves an acknowledgement of human variations – a recognition that all employees have different behaviours, perspectives and approaches to their work and responsibilities. Diversity refers to both observable and non-observable inequalities which may affect relationships, performance, creativity and productivity in the workplace.

Diversity is generally discussed in positive terms, as something that any workplace can benefit from.

This Q&A focuses on so-called 'group differences'.

What progress has been made to date in your jurisdiction to foster diversity in the workplace?

Over the past 10 to 15 years, Norway has focused on strengthening protections against discrimination. Norway adopted three new or revised acts on discrimination and equality in 2013, relating to disability, ethnic background, religion and spirituality and sex and sexual orientation. In addition, corresponding new provisions were included in the Working Environment Act.

Norwegian law prohibits discrimination in the employment relationship based on sex, nationality and ethnic origin, religion, skin colour, political views, membership of labour organisations, sexual orientation, disability and age. The prohibition applies to all aspects of the employment relationship, from hiring to training, promotion, working conditions, salary and termination. At the same time, the law allows for affirmative action and positive discrimination in relation to such groups, provided that the purpose is to promote equality, equal opportunities and rights, accessibility and adaptions.

Public employers, private employers with more than 50 employees and work organisations must work actively and systematically to ensure that they achieve the purpose of the acts.

In 2005 an independent committee for equality and discrimination was established to handle complaints regarding discrimination both in the workplace and more generally. The committee also monitors employers' obligations as outlined above.

The National Insurance Service (NAV) also has various services that promote diversity in ways which include:

  • connecting Norwegian companies with foreign workers;
  • subsidising wages; and
  • combining benefit systems with work in order to give certain challenged groups increased opportunities in the labour market.

What positive measures can employers adopt to foster diversity in the workplace without running the risk of discrimination claims?

In terms of private employers, the main rule is that employees are hired at the employer's sole discretion. Public employers are bound by the so-called 'qualification principle', meaning that they must hire the candidate with the best qualifications.

However, all employers are naturally bound by the anti-discrimination legislation.

Typical measures to foster diversity in the workplace are targeted at:

  • recruitment processes;
  • trainee arrangements;
  • education and training;
  • networking and mentor arrangements; and
  • diversity management.

Some employers also have a stated goal of increasing diversity in the workplace. This low-cost measure can to at least some extent make the company more attractive and increase the recruitment of employees from multi-cultural backgrounds, for example. Public employers in particular often encourage specific minority groups to apply when advertising roles. In addition, they may include a minority background as one of the factors that they evaluate in the recruitment process.

Employers should also focus on changing attitudes to prevent xenophobia and prejudice.

What training methods and key performance indicators can employers use to promote and assess diversity in the workplace? Can the resulting data be shared if it includes confidential employee information?

Employers may introduce training programmes for all new employees, with a focus on company values and ethical and legal guidelines.

Employers may also introduce trainee and mentor programmes (either independently or in cooperation with NAV), involving work and competence training, with the aim of recruiting members of a specific target group – such as people with disabilities or foreigners with poor language knowledge – to fill actual positions within the company.

Employers may also conduct surveys to canvass employees' opinions on diversity in the workplace and input on measures that could be taken to improve the situation. This data may be shared, provided that it is not possible to identify the employees in question.

What are the implications for global businesses working in multiple jurisdictions with different diversity laws? Do the approaches taken by domestic and multinational enterprises differs in your jurisdiction?

All international companies operating in Norway are bound by the Norwegian anti-discrimination acts and the Working Environment Act. It is difficult to say whether the approaches of multinationals differ from those of domestic companies. However, the typical Norwegian enterprise is a small or medium-sized enterprise with fewer than 100 employees. Approximately half of all Norwegian enterprises have one to four employees. These employers naturally do not have the same capacity and resources as larger companies when it comes to human resources management, and to actively and systematically promoting diversity. It is therefore safe to assume that multinationals probably have a more structured, hands-on approach to the issue than Norwegian concerns.

For further information on this topic please contact Ole Kristian Olsby at Homble Olsby Advokatfirma AS by telephone (+47 23 89 75 70) or email ([email protected]). The Homble Olsby Advokatfirma website can be accessed at www.homble-olsby.no.