The Finnish Supreme Court extended the obligation to offer work and provide training to cover employees working under a fixed-term contract

On 11th of August 2017, the Supreme Court gave an exceptional ruling in which a fixed-term employment relationship was compared to an employment relationship in force until further notice in relation to the obligation to offer work and provide training as an employment contract termination’s prerequisite, as set forth in Chapter 7, Section 4 of the Employment Contracts Act. The ruling was given even though the Supreme Court found the fixed-term contract to be legal because the employee did not fulfil the statutory qualification criteria of the position in question.

In its ruling, the Supreme Court deemed the employer’s need of workforce to be permanent by taking into consideration, for instance, the number of fixed-term contracts. Hence, the individual employee’s employment contract should have been treated as a contract valid until further notice had the position’s qualification criteria been fulfilled. The Supreme Court ended up treating the employee similarly to an employee working until further notice and stated that before the employee’s fixed-term employment contracts terminated, the municipal federation as an employer should have acted in accordance with the obligation to offer work and provide training as required under the Employment Contracts Act. In other words, the employer should have found out whether, as an alternative to terminating the employee’s fixed-term contracts, it would have been possible to either offer other work to the employee or provide feasible and reasonable training required in new duties. According to the Supreme Court, this obligation is derived from the employer’s general obligations to act loyally towards its employees.

Taking into consideration the unusual context of the Supreme Court’s ruling, it is unlikely that the said obligation’s scope of application has been extended to cover all fixed-term employment relationships. The main rule still remains that if the employer has had legal grounds to hire an employee to a fixed-term employment relationship, the employee in question will not be prioritised in relation to other work potentially available at the employer. However, the ruling does raise the following question: when does an employer reach the point after which it should apply the obligation to offer work and provide training also in relation to employees working under fixed-term contracts?

In consequence of the Supreme Court ruling, the risks related to consecutive fixed-term employment relationships rise even in situations where as such, entering into fixed-term contracts would be deemed legal. Hopefully, future legislation will clarify these ambiguous legal conditions.