Supreme Court decision

The Supreme Court recently delivered a judgment concerning employees' bonus entitlement in a situation where the employer had denied certain employees a bonus because of their participation in an illegal strike.


At issue was the bonus system of a company which is active in the paper industry. According to a specific condition of the bonus system, any financial losses to company sales caused by illegal strikes were to be deducted from the bonus of those employees who had participated in the strike. This condition had been added to the terms of the bonus system by a unilateral decision taken by the employer.

After the inclusion of the condition to the bonus system, the white collar workers of the company went on strike. The strike was later declared illegal by the Labour Court. The company denied bonuses to all employees who had participated in the illegal strike, since the financial loss caused by the strike exceeded the total amount of the bonuses.

The employees sued the employer, claiming that they had been discriminated against because of their participation in trade union activity. According to the employer, the payment of the bonus was a matter of discretion. The employees' right to strike was not restricted since the bonus was denied only to those employees who did not fulfil their work obligation while participating in the strike.

According to the Supreme Court, the following questions required answers:

  • Could the employer legally restrict the employees' entitlement to bonuses by a unilateral decision?
  • Did employer treat the strikers differently from other employees based on their participation in trade union activity?
  • If so, was there an acceptable reason for such differentiation?

Supreme Court decision

First, the court stated that the company could legally add the condition to the bonus system unilaterally since the bonus conditions could not be considered to have become part of the employees' employment contract.

Second, the court stated that although the company could change the conditions of the bonus system unilaterally, their provisions could not be freely determined by the company. According to the court, the bonus system differentiated between employees based on their participation in a strike and thus created an assumption of discrimination. The court reiterated that Finnish law contains no provisions that restrict an employee's right to participate in strikes organised by labour organisations. Penalties resulting from illegal strikes must be directed at labour organisations, rather than individual employees.

The court concluded that the freedom of association would be at risk if employees could suffer detrimental consequences owing to their participation in strikes. Thus, employers cannot withhold bonuses from employees, even if the strike that the employees participated in is subsequently declared to have been illegal.

For further information on this topic please contact Seppo Havia at Dittmar & Indrenius by telephone (+358 9 68 1700), fax (+358 9 65 2406) or email ([email protected]).