Can inappropriate behaviour be considered valid grounds for the termination of an employment relationship?

29.11.2022 | Articles


What type of behaviour is considered inappropriate within the workplace?

An employee must conduct their work diligently in accordance with the orders and instructions that the employer is entitled to give within its authority concerning the performance of the job in question. In terms of conduct, employees shall avoid doing anything that is contrary to the procedures reasonably required of employees in their position.

Pursuant to the Occupational Safety and Health Act (738/2002), employees shall exercise the care and caution necessitated by their work and working conditions and ensure, by any available means, their own safety and health as well as that of the other employees in the workplace. Harassment and other inappropriate treatment of other employees can pose a risk to safety or health in the workplace. Often, the subject of inappropriate behaviour finds the situation oppressive and this may lead to a need for extended sick leaves.

Inappropriate behaviour refers to any reprehensible actions in the workplace that are directed at co-workers, the employer or customers. Inappropriate behaviour includes, for example, repetitive name-calling, belittling  or sexual harassment. Exclusion from the work community is also considered to be inappropriate behaviour.

Lately, there has been increasing discussion about the limits of employees’ inappropriate behaviour in social media, in cases where the employer can be identified. The Employment Contracts Act (55/2001) states, however, that employees have a loyalty obligation to their employers.

Termination of employment

According to the Employment Contracts Act, a serious breach or neglect of obligations arising from the employment contract or the law and having essential impact on the employment relationship can be considered a proper and weighty reason for termination arising from the employee or related to the employee’s person.

In principle, inappropriate behaviour during one’s free time, for example, in social media, is not grounds for the termination of an employment relationship. There are, however, situations in which inappropriate behaviour during one’s free time can be grounds for dismissal. Each situation should be assessed on a case-by-case basis without excessively encroaching on one’s freedom of speech. The higher the employee’s position in the workplace, the more it is worth considering what issues are presented publicly about the employer.

An employee and employer may, for example, find themselves in a disagreement about the calculation bases for one’s salary. In this case, even strict statements on the issue are not necessarily inappropriate behaviour if the statements are justified. For example, the payroll problems of the City of Helsinki justified the opinions publicly expressed by its employees, and these opinions cannot be considered inappropriate behaviour or a reason for termination.

Generally, when an employer considers that an employee is behaving inappropriately, the employer should discuss the matter with the employee and encourage them to change their behaviour. In more serious cases, the employer should issue a warning and, even then, the employee must be granted the possibility to change their behaviour before dismissal is considered.

Civil servants are subject to public liability and, therefore, they have a more extensive and stricter legal responsibility for their work and its consequences. Even during their private life, they must conduct themselves in such a manner that does not jeopardise the public’s trust in them or in the authorities that they represent.


Pursuant to the Employment Contracts Act, an employer can only terminate an employment contract with immediate effect for an extremely weighty reason. Such a reason may be deemed to exist if the employee commits a breach against or neglects duties based on the employment contract or the law and having an essential impact on the employment relationship in such a serious manner as to render it unreasonable to expect that the employer should continue the contractual relationship even for the period of notice.

Inappropriate behaviour can be a reason for the termination of an employment contract, but the inappropriate behaviour must be severe, such as aggravated defamation or violent actions. On the other hand, even a minor instance of sexual harassment can already be considered grounds for termination without a period of notice.

Heikki Kähkönen, Labour Law Advisor at YTY

The article by Heikki Kähkönen has been published on YTY membership magazine 04/2022. Photo by Adobe Stock.


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