The Finnish Supreme Court ruled in August 2017 that, even though an employer had legitimate grounds for concluding several consecutive fixed-term employment contracts with the same employee, the employer had neglected its obligation to offer other work and provide training to the employee at the end of the employment. This obligation has previously existed only in relation to permanent employees as a precondition for the employer to lawfully dismiss the employee. The Supreme Court's judgment (KKO 2017:55) is thus a significant precedent as it establishes an entirely new obligation for employers that use fixed-term employment contracts.
The reason this case is of particular importance is that the employee (who was not employed under a permanent contract) claimed that the employer had neglected its obligation to offer other suitable work and to provide reasonable training required to perform such new work. This obligation does not exist in written law in relation to fixed-term employees. The Supreme Court stated that, in this specific case, the employee's situation was comparable to that of a permanent employee. Due to the requirement that all employees shall be treated equally and the prohibition on discriminating against employees based on the length of their employment, the Supreme Court ruled that, under the circumstances, the employer should have considered whether there was other suitable work that could have been offered to the employee. The Supreme Court further stated that the employer should have done so on its own initiative based on its duty of loyalty to the employee. Accordingly, the employer was liable to pay compensation to the employee equal to five months' salary for unlawful termination.
The case also touched upon other issues that are typical in fixed-term employment relationships. For example, the Supreme Court first had to decide whether there were legitimate grounds for the fixed-term employment contracts (16 contracts over a period of eight years). The employee had worked as a social worker but did not have the necessary university degree required by law. However, the law permitted fixed-term employment contracts (for up to one year each) for employees that did not hold the required degree. The Supreme Court found that, based on the statutory degree requirements, the consecutive fixed-term employment contracts were permissible, regardless of the employer's permanent need for workforce. Consequently, the employee's employment was not considered to be permanent.
In practice, the Supreme Court's judgment creates a new legal rule and improves the position of fixed-term employees. The judgment has also provoked controversy, as the Supreme Court has been considered to be trespassing on the legislator's turf. This precedent now extends the statutory obligation for employers to offer other suitable work to include employees who have been employed under a number of, legally permitted fixed-term employment contracts while the relevant employer has a permanent need for workforce.