New equality rules come into force

From 1 January 2001, Swedish legislation on equality between women and men at work has been tightened up. There is a new legal definition of "work of equal value", an obligation on employers to conduct an annual wage survey, and new rules on discrimination in recruitment.

On 1 January 2001, a number of amendments to the 1991 Act concerning Equality between Men and Women (jämställdhetslagen1991:433) came into force (SE9909195N). Most notably, the changes: add a definition of the concept of "work of equal value" in equal pay cases; oblige employers to conduct an annual wage survey; and extend the ban on sex discrimination to the whole recruitment process, while adjusting the burden of proof. The key points are as follows.

  • In examining what "work of equal value" means in a particular workplace, a comparison must be made between groups performing what is considered as equally valuable work. According to the bill (proposition 1999/2000:143), "a job, or work tasks, is equally valuable with another job (or work tasks) if, through a joint estimation of the demands that the work requires, an evaluation may be carried through in consideration of criteria such as knowledge and skill, responsibility and effort. When judging the nature of work, the work conditions especially should be considered."
  • Employers must conduct an annual wage survey, investigating the pay and working conditions of all the employees in a certain workplace. The employer must analyse any differences between male and female workers performing the same work tasks, or tasks of equal value. The survey is a preventive measure, aimed at discovering, dealing with and preventing wage differences related to gender. The result of the wage survey should be presented in the form of an "action plan for equal pay". The employer should provide the necessary means and a timetable for the realisation of the plan. Companies with fewer than 10 employees are exempted from the obligation to draw up an action plan. Employers must cooperate with employees in drawing up the wage survey and action plans. Trade unions must have the right of access to information about employees' wages held by the employer, in order to make this cooperation effective.
  • The ban on sex discrimination in recruitment now covers the whole process, including situations where no employment decision is made. A new rule on the burden of proof in sex discrimination cases is introduced, copied from recent items of legislation on discrimination on grounds including ethnic origin. It states that an employee who believes that he or she has suffered discrimination because of his or her sex should put forward facts showing that there are reasons to believe that such discrimination has taken place. If the employee succeeds in showing that such circumstances exist, it is up to the employer to prove that the difference in treatment has no connection with sex. The Ombudsman for Equal Opportunities (Jämställdhetsombudsmannen, JämO) has access to workplaces to make investigations that may be relevant to such cases.

The new rules introduced into the Act on Equality between Men and Women are partly a result of a wish to harmonise Swedish legislation with EC Equality Law. They should also be seen in conjunction with three recent items of legislation forbidding discrimination at work on grounds of ethnic origin, sexual orientation and disability (SE9903148F).

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