Discrimination in employment

Employers are responsible for preventing and tackling discrimination in the workplace.

As a manager, you have a great deal of responsibility: you need to ensure that you comply with laws and regulations, but also that you set an example. The way you act sends signals that influence how your employees behave.

The Swedish Discrimination Act

Ultimately, discrimination is a breach of the law. According to the Discrimination Act, it is against the law to discriminate against or harass people on the basis of any of the seven grounds of discrimination:

  • gender
  • transgender identity or expression
  • ethnicity
  • religion or other belief
  • disability
  • sexual orientation
  • age

Different forms of discrimination

Direct discrimination

The principle of non-discrimination in the Act means that a person may not be treated less favourably than another person on any of the grounds of discrimination. This means, for example, that you cannot give inferior benefits to an employee because of their gender.

Indirect discrimination

The same principle also applies to indirect discrimination, whereby someone is disadvantaged by rules or practices that may appear objective, but which in fact specifically disadvantage certain groups or individuals on the basis of one of the grounds of discrimination. For example, there may be unjustifiable height requirements for a particular job.

Bullying and sexual harassment

Sexual harassment and other bullying behaviour related to any of the grounds of discrimination are also covered by the Discrimination Act. Both forms of harassment are about violating another person’s dignity. This can include ridicule and belittling comments, but also inappropriate glances, unwelcome compliments, innuendo and groping.

It is always the victim who determines what is offensive. It is important that the victim makes it clear to the harasser that their behaviour is unpleasant and unwelcome.

Lack of accessibility

Lack of accessibility means that a person with a disability is disadvantaged by the fact that reasonable steps have not been taken to ensure that they are placed in a comparable position to people without that disability.It gives people with disabilities the right to demand accessibility at work, but also in places like shops and restaurants.

Instructions to discriminate

The law against discrimination also applies to giving orders or instructions to someone in a subordinate position to discriminate against or disadvantage someone else.

For example, this may involve instructing a recruitment agency to only invite job applicants with Swedish names for interview.

Discrimination in the workplace

The prohibition of discrimination applies in all situations in employment and does not only protect employees in the workplace. Job applicants, interns and contracted staff are also covered. However, the prohibition of lack of accessibility for people with disabilities does not apply when someone makes a spontaneous application for a job in the workplace on their own initiative.

Duty to investigate and act on harassment

If you become aware that someone in your workplace is feeling harassed, as a manager you have a duty to find out what has happened as quickly as possible.

The investigation should be carried out as quickly and discreetly as possible, identifying, for example, the people involved and whether there are any witnesses.

If you establish that harassment has taken place, you must take action to stop it. In some cases, it is only necessary to talk to the person who has committed the harassment and ask them to desist from that behaviour. In more serious or repeated cases, more forceful measures may be required, such as a written warning, redeployment or, ultimately, termination of employment.

Prohibition of retaliation by the employer

A person who has reported discrimination or has pointed out that an employer is breaking the law should not be punished for it by their employer.

Active anti-discrimination measures

According to the Discrimination Act, employers must work systematically and actively to prevent discrimination and promote equal rights and opportunities in the workplace, based on the grounds of discrimination.

The new provisions, which came into force on 1 January 2017, require employers, in consultation with employees, to:

  • promote gender balance
  • develop policies and procedures to prevent bullying, sexual harassment and retaliation.

The employer must also carry out work in four stages (investigate, analyse, take action, monitor) on an ongoing basis in the following five areas:

  • Working conditions.
  • Regulations and practice concerning salaries and other terms of employment.
  • Recruitment and promotion.
  • Training and other skills development.
  • Opportunities to reconcile work and parenthood.


There is no longer a requirement for organisations to have a gender equality plan. Currently, employers with 25 or more employees are required to document all aspects of their ongoing efforts to implement active measures. The documentation must be in writing.

Find out more about the discrimination legislation at DO.se(Swedish).

Related legislation

Workplace bullying

Employers also have an obligation under the work environment legislation to take measures to counteract conditions in the work environment that may give rise to workplace bullying. In addition, the employer must ensure that there are procedures in place to deal with workplace bullying.

Read more about this on the Swedish Work Environment Authority’s website(Swedish).

Unfair treatment of employees on parental leave

The Parental Leave Act prohibits discrimination against an employee or job applicant who is, will be or has been on parental leave. This may involve being put in a worse position or missing out on an advancement or a benefit.

You can read about theParental Leave Act on the Swedish Parliament's website.

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