There have been no major legislative changes during the past year. However, as a result of the Swedish elections in 2018, the government has proposed changes to the Employment Protection Act (EPA). The government presented its first proposal in June 2020, which was followed by negotiations between the social partners. In December 2020, the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise (Svenskt Näringsliv), the joint organisation for salaried employees in the private sector, PTK, and two of the major unions in the Swedish Trade Union Confederation (LO) reached an agreement regarding changes in the EPA. The changes suggested by the social partners were incorporated into a second proposal which was presented by the government in June 2021.
The legislation will enter into force 30 June 2022 and some of the major changes include:
A number of temporary measures have been taken in order to help Swedish businesses to mitigate the financial difficulties that may ensue owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. The measures include different forms of state-funded financial support to offer businesses an alternative to dismissals and to help reduce short-term liquidity issues.
State-funded financial support for short-term working arrangements was previously an option available for businesses only during times of particularly severe recession in accordance with permanent legislation. Such financial support became temporarily available during 2020 for all businesses with temporary and serious financial difficulties due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The short-term working arrangements are referred to as "short-term lay-offs" and entitle employees to retain more than 90% of their salary, even if their hours of work are reduced by 20, 40 or 60%. The temporary legislation has been extended several times and it is possible for employers to receive support for short-term working arrangements until 30 September 2021.
The state-funded financial support covers most of the cost for the reduced working hours during this period, which means that businesses may temporarily cut their salary costs by about half. The financial support is initially granted for a period of up to six months, but an additional extension of up to three months' support is possible should the financial difficulties subsist.
In order to prevent sick employees from going to work, the government has decided on a temporary compensation for the 20% deduction (Karensavdrag) of the sick pay. The compensation for the deduction is a standard amount of SEK804 and the provisions are currently set to apply until the end of September 2021. Employers may also be entitled to compensation for the sick pay that employees are entitled to during the first 14 days of their sick leave. The compensation is calculated based on the cost for sick pay in relation to the employer’s total salary costs.
Further, the government has decided to temporarily reduce the social security contributions for young people who have turned 18 but not 23 at the beginning of each calendar year. The rate of social security contributions paid by the employer has been lowered to 19.73% instead of 31.42% under the temporary legislation. The law applies until 31 March 2023.
In Sweden, there are no statutory definitions of white and blue-collar workers. Instead, these groups are defined by the applicable trade unions of which the workers are members and, therefore, different collective bargaining agreements apply to these two groups. In some labour market areas, the collective bargaining agreement regulations are uniform and a categorisation of these two groups of workers is not necessary.
General regulations regarding employment protection are found in the EPA. Certain terms for employees in the public sector in Sweden are regulated through the Public Employment Act. However, the same rules essentially apply to private and public employees, and the Public Employment Act only contains a few specific rules for public employees.
The general rule is that an employment agreement is for an indefinite period, unless agreed otherwise. The EPA allows for a general fixed-term employment when the employer is in need of fixed-term employees. A fixed-term employment agreement may also be concluded for a temporary substitute employment and for seasonal employment.
If, during the past five years, an employee has been employed either for a general fixed-term employment for an aggregate of more than two years or as a substitute for an aggregate of more than two years, the employment is converted into indefinite-term employment. A general fixed-term employment may also be converted into an indefinite-term employment if the employee has been employed in different consecutive fixed-term employments. A general fixed-term employment or a temporary substitute employment will not convert into an indefinite-term employment if the employee has reached the age of 67, or, if the employee was employed after 1 January 2020, the age of 68.
Note that collective bargaining agreements may contain regulations deviating from the statutory rules governing fixed-term employment.
In Sweden, an employment agreement does not have to take any specific form in order to be valid. However, Sweden has implemented the directive on an employer’s obligation to inform employees of the conditions applicable to the contract or employment relationship. An employer must provide certain information in writing to the employee concerning the principal terms of the employment within one month of the commencement of the employment. Failure to do so can result in an obligation to pay damages to the employee concerned.
The requisite information includes the name and address of the employer and the employee, the commencement date, the place of work, duties and title, whether employment is fixed or for an indefinite term, the length of the probationary period, periods of notice, payment and other employment benefits, the length of paid annual leave, the length of the normal working day or working week, and information on the applicable collective bargaining agreements.
The maximum normal working hours are 40 hours per week. In addition to this, the Working Hours Act sets forth rules concerning overtime work as well as daily and weekly rest for employees.
Deviations from certain regulations in the Working Hours Act can be made by collective bargaining agreement, but not in individual employment agreements.
For part-time employees, the equivalent to overtime is called additional time, which comprises the working hours in excess of the employee’s regular working hours and on-call time. When there is a special need to increase the number of hours worked, an additional maximum of 200 hours may be worked per employee over a calendar year (general additional time). When there are special grounds, additional time in excess of general additional time may be worked, up to a maximum of 150 hours per employee over a calendar year. Together, extra additional time and general additional time may not exceed 48 hours per employee over a period of four weeks, or 50 hours over a calendar month.
Overtime comprises working hours in excess of regular working hours and on-call hours. Where additional working hours are required, overtime hours may not exceed 48 hours over a period of four weeks or 50 hours over a calendar month, subject to a maximum of 200 hours per calendar year.
Statutory law does not contain regulations regarding overtime pay, which is normally provided for in collective bargaining agreements. In general, employees may choose to receive overtime pay in terms of money or compensatory leave. If no collective bargaining agreement exists, the employee is not entitled to overtime pay unless agreed upon individually. If a collective bargaining agreement exists and provides a right to overtime pay, it may contain provisions that make it possible for the employee to waive the right to overtime pay and instead receive compensation in the form of compensatory leave. However, such waiver usually only applies to employees who have flexible working hours, or if special reasons apply.
There are no provisions regarding minimum wage requirements in Swedish law, but such provisions are often found in collective bargaining agreements.
In Sweden, it is common for employers and employees to agree that part of the full salary will be paid as variable salary. The different types of variable salary vary and can be paid out, inter alia, as commission (eg, a certain percentage of the contractual sum for provided services) or bonus (eg, variable salary paid out in accordance with specific and determined targets with financial parameters of the performance of the employing company and/or personal performance of the employee). The payment of variable salary is not regulated in statute and is rather a matter of negotiation between the parties to the employment agreement. It is most common for the terms for payment of variable salary to be set out in the employment agreement, or for the variable salary targets and the payment of variable salary to be decided annually at the employer’s discretion. It should be noted that variable salary generally qualifies for the payment of vacation pay in Sweden.
Thirteenth-month payments are not normally applied in Sweden, but some employers choose to award their employees with an annual bonus paid at the company’s discretion if the company has performed well during the year. Such a bonus is paid as a gratuity and normally does not qualify for the payment of vacation pay or occupational pension contributions.
There is no general government intervention on compensation and salary increases in Sweden, but such matters are often regulated in collective bargaining agreements. It should be noted that compensation in connection with vacation, parental and sick leave is statutorily regulated.
Vacation and Vacation Pay
Vacation entitlement is regulated by the Annual Leave Act, which distinguishes between vacation days and vacation salary, and between a "vacation year" (1 April to 31 March) and a "qualifying year" (the 12-month period prior to the vacation year). The normal and minimum vacation entitlement is 25 days per year. An employee earns his or her entitlement to vacation salary during the qualifying year and is entitled to use his or her paid vacation during the vacation year. Collective bargaining agreements or employment agreements generally contain rules entitling employees to a longer period of annual leave – up to 30 paid days – if the employee is not entitled to overtime pay. This is normally the case for white-collar employees.
Employees are entitled to take a continuous four-week vacation during the period from June to August, unless there are circumstances justifying other arrangements. Employees who have been given a period of notice of termination of less than six months cannot be required to take their vacation entitlement during the notice period, unless they agree to do so. Under certain conditions, employees are entitled to exchange annual leave that has already been scheduled for sick leave or parental leave, for example. It is possible for employees to carry over their entitlement to paid vacation days to the next vacation year (but not unpaid vacation days), but only if the employee has earned more than 20 days of paid vacation, and only for those days that exceed 20 days.
Deviations from certain regulations in the Annual Leave Act can be made by collective bargaining agreement.
Vacation pay is usually paid out in connection with the employee’s use of their accrued vacation. According to the Swedish Annual Leave Act, vacation pay may be calculated in two ways: according to the same salary rule or the percentage rule. The same salary rule applies to employees whose remuneration is calculated on a monthly or weekly basis, while the percentage rule applies to employees whose remuneration is not calculated on a weekly or monthly basis or has a high variable element. If the variable elements of the salary amount to at least 10% of the total salary during the year, the percentage rule shall be used.
According to the same salary rule, the employee is paid their regular salary plus a vacation supplement of 0.43% of their monthly salary per day. For variable parts of the salary, the employee is paid 12% of the variable salary if he or she are entitled to 25 days of vacation. According to the percentage rule, the vacation pay for employees is 12% of the total salary during the accruing year when the employee is entitled to 25 vacation days.
If the employment ends before the employee has taken paid annual leave to which he or she is entitled, the employer must pay the employee in lieu of the unused vacation pay entitlement.
An employee may go on parental leave until their child is 18 months old. Thereafter, the employee is entitled to leave for as long as he or she receives compensation from the state. Compensation is paid by the state for a total of 480 days per child. The compensation may be paid until the child reaches the age of 12 years, but only 96 days may remain when the child reaches the age of four years.
In addition to parental leave, the mother is entitled to parental allowance during the 60 days prior to the expected birth of the child. The father of the child may also be on paternity leave for ten days in connection with the birth of the child.
The entitlement to parental days is divided equally between the parents, but the parents have the right to transfer their entitlements to each other, with the exception of 90 days; these 90 days will be forfeited if they are not used. As a result, one parent may use a maximum of 390 days, during which the allowance is capped at 80% of the employee’s salary up to a certain salary level. If a collective bargaining agreement is in force in the workplace, the employee may be entitled to compensation from the employer in addition to the compensation from the state. A parent is also entitled to parental leave and temporary parental benefit if their child is sick.
An employee is entitled to mandatory sick pay payable by the employer, provided that the employment is expected to continue for more than one month or that the employee has been working for more than 14 consecutive days. During days 1-14 of the sick leave, the employee is entitled to 80% of the estimated salary and employment benefits the employee receives during a normal week. From the sick pay, a deduction of 20% is made (karensavdrag). If the employee falls ill again within five days, the previous sick leave period will continue and no further deductions will be made. From day 15 in the sickness period, the employee may be entitled to compensation payable by the state. The entitlement to such compensation is based on strict rules and is decided by the Swedish Social Insurance Agency. There is no obligation for the employer to provide any supplementary sick pay, unless such is provided for in an applicable collective bargaining or individual agreement.
Limitations on Confidentiality
An employee’s obligation not to reveal confidential information about the employer’s business follows from the employee’s duty of loyalty during the employment. However, according to the Trade Secrets Act, a disclosure of a company’s trade secret by an individual for the purpose of making public or revealing to a public authority or other authorised body a matter that may reasonably be suspected of constituting a criminal offence punishable by imprisonment or that is deemed to constitute another serious irregularity in the company’s business activities is not considered an unlawful disclosure. A comparable principle is found in the Whistle-blowing Act. As a main principle, there are no limitations on confidentiality agreements in terms of time, but such an agreement may be considered unreasonable and unenforceable by a court if it is too burdensome for the employee.
Non-disparagement clauses are not that common in Sweden, but the duty of loyalty includes a duty not to be disloyal towards the employer by way of disparagement. However, an employee has a right to put forward critique towards the employer when it is justified, as mentioned above.
The main principle is that the employer is responsible for all damage caused by the employee in the employment. For damage that an employee causes through fault or negligence in his or her employment, the employee is responsible only to the extent that there are exceptional circumstances with regard to the nature of the act, the employee’s position, the interest of the injured party and other circumstances, according to the Tort Liability Act.
The main rule is that post-employment restrictive covenants are valid only if they are reasonable, taking many different factors into account, such as whether employees receive some kind of compensation for the restriction, whether the restriction is limited to certain companies, whether the restriction is limited geographically, etc. An overall assessment of all relevant factors has to be made in each individual case.
According to collective bargaining agreements and market practice, employers are obliged to pay approximately 60% of the monthly income from the employer as compensation for inconvenience caused by the non-competition clause. However, a general assessment of the reasonableness of a non-competition clause must be made in each individual case, which means that other types of compensation may also be accepted as long as they are linked to the non-competition clause.
Post-termination covenants are valid under certain circumstances. Covenants regarding confidentiality are normally used for all kinds of employees. However, non-compete covenants should normally only be used for employees whose position in the company makes such restrictions necessary. In principle, the period of a non-compete covenant should not exceed nine months, or, under certain conditions, a maximum of 18 months.
Non-compete covenants are normally combined with a contractual penalty, which must be reasonable in relation to the employee’s salary. Such a penalty is usually set at between three and six months’ salary for each breach. Furthermore, restrictive covenants may also be combined with a continuing penalty, and the employer can also be entitled to further damages if the damage caused by the employee exceeds the amount of the contractual penalty.
For employees, there is no limitation in time for non-solicitation covenants, but they generally follow the same time limitations set forth in non-compete covenants. A clause regarding the non-solicitation of employees does not usually need to be combined with any compensation in order to be considered reasonable (unlike non-competition clauses) but should be limited eg, to colleagues that the employee has worked with. A general assessment of the reasonableness of a non-solicitation clause must be made in each individual case.
With reference to customers, there is no limitation in time for non-solicitation covenants, but they generally follow the same time limitations set forth in non-compete covenants. Furthermore, in the same way as non-competition clauses, a clause regarding the non-solicitation of customers needs to be combined with compensation in order to be considered reasonable. However, a general assessment of the reasonableness of a non-solicitation clause must be made in each individual case.
The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is applicable in Sweden and provides protection for individuals against violation of their personal integrity by the processing of personal data. Accordingly, there are restrictions on employers’ use of data regarding employees, former employees and applicants. There are certain basic requirements for any form of processing of personal data that is fully or partly computerised, according to the GDPR.
Personal data may only be processed if it is lawful to do so. The personal data must be collected for specific, explicitly stated and justified purposes. The collected personal data needs to be relevant and necessary for the purpose stipulated and may not be stored for longer than necessary with reference to the specified purposes. It must also be accurate and processed in a manner that ensures appropriate security of the personal data. The GDPR also stipulates situations in which personal data may be processed if the individual has not given his or her consent to the processing. For example, personal data may be processed in order to satisfy a purpose that concerns a legitimate interest of the employer, provided that this interest outweighs the interest of the registered person in protection against violation of their personal integrity.
Certain types of personal data are considered special categories of personal data; for example, information about employees’ or applicants’ race or ethnic origin, genetic data, political opinions, religious or philosophical beliefs, membership of a trade union, or personal data concerning health or sexual preference. Special categories of personal data may only be processed in special circumstances.
The GDPR sets forth certain rights for the registered individuals, such as the right to information concerning the processing of their personal data, the right to access, and the right to rectification, erasure and restriction of processing.
Citizens of countries outside the EU must have a work permit to work in Sweden. In order for a person to obtain such a permit, the employer must have prepared an offer of employment and advertised the job in Sweden and the EU for ten days (this applies to new recruitment). The terms of employment must be equal to or better than those provided under a Swedish collective bargaining agreement or that are customary for the occupation or sector. In addition to this, the employee shall be entitled to health insurance, life insurance, industrial injuries insurance and occupational pension insurance. The employee must also earn enough from the employment to be able to support himself or herself, the gross salary should be at least SEK13,000 per month and the relevant trade union must have been given the opportunity to express an opinion on the terms of employment.
The Posting of Workers Act applies to posted workers in Sweden.
EU and EEA citizens do not need a visa and have the right to work in Sweden without work permits or residence permits. People who have a residence permit in an EU country but are not EU citizens can apply to obtain the status of long-term resident in that country, thereby enjoying certain rights similar to those of EU citizens.
Almost one out of ten employers in Sweden are members of an employers’ organisation and approximately 70% of employees in Sweden are members of a trade union. There are approximately 110 different trade unions and employers’ organisations on the Swedish labour market. The parties have agreed on more than 650 collective bargaining agreements, so trade unions are very prevalent on the Swedish labour market. The “Swedish model” of industrial relations is characterised by a high degree of organisation, even though trade union density is currently falling.
The Co-Determination Act contains the general provisions governing the relationship between employers and the trade unions in areas such as association, information, negotiations, industrial actions and labour stability obligations.
According to the Co-Determination Act, an employer has certain consultation and information obligations towards the trade unions. For example, prior to any decision to reorganise the business or terminate employment contracts, the employer must call for and conduct consultations with the trade unions under the applicable collective bargaining agreements (at both local and national level, if applicable). Even if the employer is not bound by a collective bargaining agreement, they are obliged to consult the trade union of which the employee concerned is a member regarding the planned reorganisation and potential redundancies.
The Act also contains certain interpretation regulations, to the benefit of the trade unions. Generally, these rules give the trade union the right to interpret the collective bargaining agreement until the matter has been finally decided by court, and are therefore important in the case of disputes.
The local trade unions usually elect one or more representatives to represent the employees at a workplace, under the provisions of the Trade Union Representatives Act. Employees who are trade union representatives may not be prevented from carrying out union work during working hours, may not be discriminated against due to their union activities and are entitled to a reasonable leave of absence to carry out their union activities. The local trade union representative shall manage questions relating to labour at the specific workplace – issues of salary, work environment, reorganisations, etc, are normally covered. A trade union representative enjoys extended protection in a redundancy situation.
Furthermore, the Board Representation Act entitles employees of private companies that are bound by collective bargaining agreements and have at least 25 employees to appoint two ordinary and two deputy employee representatives to the board of directors. Employees of companies that have at least 1,000 employees and are engaged in different industries are entitled to appoint three ordinary and three deputy employee representatives to the board of directors.
Moreover, Sweden has implemented the European Works Council Directive (Directive 2009/38/EC) and the Directive establishing a general framework for informing and consulting employees in the European Community (Directive 2002/14/EC).
Lastly, in a workplace where at least five employees are regularly employed, one or more safety representatives should be appointed, in accordance with the Working Environment Act. If the employer is bound by a collective bargaining agreement, the safety representatives are appointed by the trade union; otherwise, they are appointed by the employees.
The Swedish system is based on the principle that law and collective bargaining agreements together shall provide a comprehensive framework.
Through membership in an employers’ organisation, the employer is bound by the collective bargaining agreements applicable to that organisation. The employer is also obliged to apply the terms and conditions of the collective bargaining agreement to employees that are not members of a trade union. It is also possible for an employer to sign a collective bargaining agreement directly with one or more trade unions.
Once a collective bargaining agreement has been entered into and is in effect, an obligation to refrain from industrial action comes into effect and prohibits strikes or lock-outs. Breaking the peace obligation will incur liability for damages on the breaching party.
A dismissal must be based on objective grounds, which are not defined by statute or case law but can be either objective reasons or subjective personal reasons. Objective reasons are dismissals based on redundancy, reorganisation or the economic situation of the employer, while subjective personal reasons are all dismissals that relate to the employee personally, such as the employee’s conduct or performance.
An overall assessment of all the factors involved must be made when determining whether there are objective grounds for dismissal. A dismissal with notice will never be considered as being based on objective grounds if there were other alternatives available to the employer, such as relocating the employee elsewhere within the business. Thus, an employer must investigate whether there are any vacant positions within their business that the employee can be offered before a notice of termination is given.
The procedure for dismissing employees varies to some extent, depending on whether the dismissal is due to objective reasons or subjective personal reasons. The procedural requirements to follow are laid down in the EPA. Prior to terminating an employment agreement due to objective reasons, the employer may be obliged to conduct consultations under the Co-Determination Act if the employer is bound by a collective bargaining agreement or if the employee is a member of a trade union.
The basic principle to be applied when the labour force has to be made redundant due to objective reasons is that the employee with the longest aggregate period of employment with the company should be entitled to stay the longest: the employer must select those to be laid off on a “last in, first out” basis. A condition for continued employment is that the employee has sufficient qualifications for one of the available positions that may be offered.
Prior to terminating an employment agreement for subjective personal reasons, the employer must notify the employee concerned in writing and the trade union, if the employee is a trade union member, two weeks in advance. If an employer wants summarily to dismiss an employee without notice, the information must be given one week before the actual dismissal. The employee or the trade union may request consultations with the employer concerning the dismissal, within one week of receiving the information.
The employer must observe certain formal rules set out in the EPA when serving a notice of termination to an employee. Notices shall always be made in writing and must state the procedure to be followed by the employee if they wish to claim that the notice of termination is invalid or to claim damages as a consequence of the termination. The notice shall also state whether or not the employee enjoys rights of priority for re-employment. Several statutes contain limitation periods for bringing employment claims, including the Co-Determination Act, the Annual Leave Act and the EPA. Furthermore, the Limitations Act stipulates limitation periods for salary and pension claims.
Dismissal of Multiple Employees
In Sweden, there is no principal difference between a termination due to objective reasons (eg, redundancy) involving one employee or such a termination involving 150 employees. Hence, the Co-Determination Act does not recognise the term “collective redundancies”. In contrast to many other European countries where the obligation to consult collectively is triggered only if there are several redundancies, the provisions on obligations to consult according to the Co-Determination Act are applicable even if the redundancy concerns only one employee (please see the outline for termination due to objective reasons described above).
If more than five employees are subject to a redundancy situation and their employments are being terminated, the employer is obliged to notify the Swedish Employment Agency a certain period in advance, depending on how many employees are being terminated. This also applies if the total number of notices of termination is expected to be 20 or more during a 90-day period. Failure to observe this notification obligation may result in a liability to pay a special fee to the state.
Statutory notice periods from the employer’s side vary between one and six months, depending on the length of the employment term, as described below:
The length of the notice period may be extended by virtue of collective bargaining agreements or individual contracts. During the notice period, the employee is obliged to perform work for the employer and is entitled to salary and all other employment benefits. It is possible for an employer to release the employee from the duty to perform work during the notice period.
The minimum notice period in the case of a termination from the employee’s side is one month but can be extended by a collective bargaining agreement or an individual employment contract.
There are no statutory provisions regarding severance pay. However, an employee may be entitled to severance pay in accordance with an employment agreement or an exit agreement.
Please see 7.1 Grounds for Termination regarding union consultations and union representation where the employee is a member of a trade union.
Summary dismissal may take place where the employee has grossly neglected his or her obligations to the employer.
The summary dismissal may not be based exclusively on circumstances of which the employer was aware either longer than two months prior to the notice of summary dismissal or, should such a notice not be issued, longer than two months prior to the summary dismissal.
Prior to summarily dismissing an employee, the employer must notify said employee in writing and the trade union, if the employee is a trade union member, one week in advance. Within one week of receiving the information, the employee or trade union may request consultations with the employer concerning the dismissal.
The summary dismissal shall be in writing and shall be given to the employee personally. In the notification of summary dismissal, the employer shall state the provisions with which the employee must comply if he or she wishes to bring legal action alleging that the summary dismissal is invalid or to seek damages on the grounds of the summary dismissal.
Upon the employee's request, the employer shall state the circumstances invoked as grounds for the summary dismissal, in writing if the employee so requests.
Summary dismissal shall be deemed effected when the employee receives the notification of summary dismissal.
Summary dismissal means that the employee is not entitled to any notice period or other termination benefits, according to the employment agreement.
The employer and employee are free to enter into a final settlement in a termination agreement. Hence, the employment may be terminated disregarding the strict rules of the EPA. Consequently, an employee may waive his or her contractual rights. As a rule, an employee cannot waive rights laid down in mandatory law that are not yet accrued, but an employee is free to waive rights that are already accrued. Normally, the employee is financially compensated in order to enter into an exit agreement with the employer that includes a full and final release. There are no specific procedures or formalities to consider when entering into a termination agreement with an employee.
There are no specific requirements for termination agreements in Swedish law. However, all agreements can be deemed unreasonable and amended or declared invalid by a court, according to general contractual law.
Dismissals that are considered discriminatory according to the Discrimination Act are prohibited. Furthermore, several other regulations protect employees from unfair dismissals. For instance, an employee may not be dismissed on grounds related to parental leave or leave of absence for educational purposes, or part-time employment. Trade union representatives also have specific protection against dismissal and against discrimination based on their union activities.
A trade union representative may not be given less favourable working conditions or employment terms and conditions as a result of his or her activities. Upon termination of his or her duties, the employee shall be ensured the same or a comparable position in respect of working conditions and employment terms and conditions as if he or she had no trade union-related duties. Furthermore, in conjunction with a termination due to redundancy and in conjunction with lay-offs, the union representative shall be given priority for continued work, provided it is of specific importance for trade union activities at the workplace.
In the case of wrongful termination of employment, the termination could be challenged by the employee as not having an objective ground and could be declared invalid by the court. The employer may be obliged to pay salary and benefits during the court proceeding, punitive damages (normally not exceeding SEK100,000), compensation for economic loss and the costs for the litigation.
Anti-discrimination legislation consists of the Discrimination Act, which prohibits both direct and indirect discrimination as well as harassment in working life based on sex, ethnicity, religion or other belief, disability, sexual orientation, transgender identity or expression, and age.
Furthermore, employers may not discriminate against part-time or fixed-term employees, nor may they treat an applicant or an employee unfairly on grounds related to parental leave under Swedish law. Trade union representatives are also protected from discrimination based on their union activities.
Where a person who believes that they have been subject to discrimination or reprisals proves facts that give cause to believe that they have been subject to discrimination or reprisals, the defendant must prove that there has been no such discrimination or reprisals.
A party who violates the prohibitions against discrimination or reprisals, or who fails to fulfil its obligations to investigate and take measures against harassment or sexual harassment under the Discrimination Act, shall pay compensation for discrimination for any humiliation and personal indignity resulting from the violation. When compensation is decided, the specific purpose of combating such violations of the Act shall be taken into consideration. The compensation shall be paid to the person offended by the violation.
An employer who discriminates against an employee, applicant, etc, or breaches the provisions regarding prohibition against reprisals shall also pay compensation for the loss incurred. However, this does not apply to loss that is incurred in conjunction with a decision pertaining to employment or promotion, nor to loss incurred as a result of discrimination in the form of insufficient access.
Furthermore, if someone is discriminated against by a provision in an individual contract or in a collective bargaining agreement in a manner that is prohibited under the Discrimination Act, the provision shall be modified or declared invalid if the discriminated person requests it.
The Labour Court is the first and only instance for employment disputes concerning a collective bargaining agreement or in accordance with the Co-Determination Act, or if a collective bargaining agreement applies between the parties. Other employment disputes are resolved in the district courts, with the Labour Court as the first and final instance of appeal.
Negotiations and consultations between employers and organisations can be held at both a local and a central level.
Regarding judicial disputes, since a trade union organisation has the right to bring an action before the court – regarding a dispute of collective bargaining agreement, for example – this constitutes a form of class action. According to the Class Action Act, an organisational class action can be commenced by a non-profit association that, according to its statutes, will protect the interest of its employees. Class action claims are uncommon in Sweden.
Further, the right to resort to industrial action is a constitutional right laid down in the Instrument of Government, which applies only to trade unions, employers or employers’ organisations. Restrictions of this right are set forth in the Co-Determination Act, which stipulates that an employer and an employee that are bound by a collective bargaining agreement may not initiate or participate in industrial action if an organisation is party to that agreement and has not duly sanctioned the action.
Normally, the employee is represented by a union representative in court if they are a trade union member. Hence, the employee bears no costs for his or her representation in court, as the costs are borne by the trade union. Employers are also sometimes represented by their employers’ organisation, but more often they are represented by an in-house legal representative or by a law firm.
The employer and the employee may agree in an employment agreement that any future disputes shall be settled by arbitration. Such a clause may be deemed unreasonably burdensome for the employee and set aside by the courts, particularly if the employee does not occupy a managerial or comparable position.
Dispute resolution regulations may also be specified in collective bargaining agreements.
For employment disputes, the main principle regarding liability for litigation costs is found in the Swedish Code of Judicial Procedure, namely that the losing party shall be ordered to bear the prevailing party’s litigation costs. However, according to the Labour Disputes Act, each party may be ordered to bear its own litigation costs if the losing party had reasonable grounds to bring the action. However, this rule is normally only applied in collective bargaining disputes.
Developments in Swedish Employment Law
Impacts of COVID-19
The outbreak of COVID-19 has had a major impact on almost all aspects of Swedish society. Regarding the business community, several legislative measures have been implemented to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 and to support sustainable companies during this unprecedented time.
Regarding employment law, the most significant measure has been the implementation of governmental financial support for short-time work as of 16 March 2020. Under this legislation, employers can reduce their employees’ working hours and receive financial support (the "short-time work allowance") from the central government to compensate for a significant part of the costs for retaining employees. Under the scheme, the government will cover 75% of the loss in salary, and the remaining 25% of the loss in salary is shared between the employer and the employee. Short-time work is intended to be an alternative to the employer having to terminate employments on a greater scale. The aim is that affected employers shall be able to retain their employees and be able to quickly resume their business once the effects of COVID-19 have diminished.
In order to receive the short-time work allowance, several requirements must be fulfilled, both in respect of the employer and the employees. The employer must, for example, be able to show that the employer has suffered temporary and severe financial difficulties due to COVID-19. The employer must also have utilised all other available measures to reduce the personnel costs. Further, the employer may not be insolvent or under company reconstruction. If the employer is bound by a collective bargaining agreement (CBA), short-time work must be allowed under the relevant CBA. If the employer is not bound by a CBA, the employer must have reached written agreements with at least 70% of the employees within an operating unit who fulfil the basic requirements on participation in short-time work. Furthermore, the financial support only covers employees who have been employed for a certain period of time.
The reduction of the employees’ working hours during the short-time work shall be 20, 40, 60, or 80%. During the short-time work, the employee will receive approximately 90-96% of the ordinary salary, depending on the level of reduction in working hours. The short-time work allowance provides that the employer’s costs for personnel will be reduced by 19-72%, depending on the level of reduction in working hours. The short-time work allowance programme will remain in effect until 30 September 2021.
Other temporary measures that have been implemented are reduced employers’ fees and that the government covers certain costs in connection with employees’ sickness.
The implementation and application of the short-time work allowance has not been without difficulties. Due to the underlying legislation being partially new and the need for its quick implementation, there have been uncertainties as to the application in several regards. One issue has been whether the employer is entitled to receive the short-time work allowance if dividends or other value transfers as well as bonuses are disbursed to employees during the short-time work period. These uncertainties have resulted in companies being liable for repaying the allowance received.
Further, the authority responsible for processing the applications and paying the short-time work allowance has interpreted and applied one of the key terms in the legislation in a way that is not consistent with the legislation. This has resulted in numerous companies having either been denied the allowance or been liable for repaying the allowance received. In a recent verdict from the Swedish Administrative Supreme Court, where the authors acted as legal counsel for the employer, the issue was finally settled whereby the court ruled in favour of the employer. The ruling means that a large number of companies will receive the allowance.
As a consequence of COVID-19, employees have been working remotely to a larger extent than before, usually from a home office instead of the ordinary workplace at the employer’s premises. It is generally expected that this development will continue even after the effects of COVID-19 have diminished.
For employees to work remotely from home raises several issues from a legal perspective. As a general principle, is it not possible for the employer to unilaterally change the employee’s place of work on a more permanent basis and to hereby order the employee to work from home. Such change of workplace requires a mutual agreement between the parties. An employer who intends to implement working from home on a more permanent basis should ensure that such arrangement is regulated by written agreement. The agreement should contain terms and conditions regarding, inter alia, the extent of the remote work, routines for information exchange and reporting as well as how the agreement can be terminated and the consequences of such termination, eg, that the employee shall return to work from the employer’s premises.
That the employee is working remotely does not impact or reduce the employer’s responsibility for the work environment. The employer remains ultimately responsible for the employee’s work environment, which also includes the work environment in the employee’s home. Therefore, it is important for the employer to have a continuous dialogue with the employee regarding matters related to the work environment in order to be able to fulfil the legislative requirements in this regard.
Working remotely also raises issues relating to IT-security, confidentiality and loyalty. The employer should ensure that sufficient IT-security is maintained and that routines are put in place to minimise the risk of confidential information being disclosed or spread to any third party. The employee’s duty of loyalty towards the employer is fundamental within Swedish employment law and is of a far-reaching nature. The duty of loyalty includes, inter alia, a duty to report the work progress to the employer. It is the employer that determines how the reporting shall take place. According to recent case law from the Swedish Labour Court, working remotely entails a special trust and, therefore, the employee has an enhanced responsibility for maintaining the communication in accordance with the employer’s instructions. Failing to do so can entail that there are grounds for terminating the employee’s employment. It is therefore important that the employer provide the employee with clear and precise instructions regarding the employee’s reporting responsibility.
Modernisation of Swedish employment legislation
Swedish employment legislation is currently subject to reform. The reform aims to adapt employment protection to the changes and developments in the labour market. In June 2020, the special investigator appointed by the government presented his proposal on legislative changes in the report “A Modernised Employment Law”. Following the report, most of the labour market organisations have come together and concluded an agreement on the reform of employment law. It has been requested that the government bring forward a legislative proposal in accordance with the parties’ agreement. In June 2021, the government presented its initial proposals for necessary legislative changes. The proposals will be subject to review and consultations by a large number of stakeholders before the government presents the final legislative proposal. Hence, no legislative measures have yet been decided.
The intent of the parties is, to further create flexibility, adaptability and security on the labour market. The proposed reform entails amendments to employment protection and the implementation of a new and parallel public study aid, as well as a new public outplacement support for employees not covered by a collective bargaining agreement.
The amendments regarding employment protection would mainly involve changes to the Swedish Employment Protection Act (EPA), which is one of the most fundamental pieces of legislation in Swedish employment law. The proposal includes, inter alia, changes regarding termination of employment due to personal reasons, for example misconduct by the employee, with the aim of increasing the predictability of the requirements for a valid termination for personal reasons.
Further, changes regarding the rules on order of priority in connection with termination by the employer due to shortage of work are proposed. Under Swedish law, it is not automatically the employee holding the position that has become redundant that is to be terminated. This is instead determined by the order of priority, meaning that an employee with a longer aggregate term of employment will have priority to continue his or her employment over an employee with a shorter aggregate term of employment, namely the “last in, first out” principle. According to the proposed changes, all employers, regardless of the number of employees, would be entitled to exclude additional employees (three instead of two) before determining the order of priority and such change would thus give the employer a greater freedom to select which employees shall remain within the business.
A new form of employment – special fixed-term employment – is proposed to replace the current general fixed-term employment. In short, the new rules provide that the special fixed-term employment will automatically be transformed into an employment on indefinite terms when the employee has been employed for more than 12 months, instead of 24 months according to the current legislation.
Full-time employment, 40 hours per week, shall be the general rule, meaning that the employment shall be considered a full-time employment unless the parties have explicitly agreed otherwise. If the employment is not full-time, the employer is obligated to state the reasons for this in writing upon request by the employee. Further, the proposal includes measures for reducing the employer’s costs in connection with terminations as well as making the costs more predictable. Contrary to current regulations, the employment would no longer continue during the course of a dispute where the employee has disputed the termination and requested the termination to be declared invalid.
The legislative changes are proposed to enter into effect on 30 June 2022 and be applied for the first time on 1 October 2022.
Enhanced protection for whistle-blowers
In May 2021, the government proposed a new legislative act on the protection of whistle-blowers. The legislation is an implementation of the EU Directive on the protection of persons who report breaches of Union law (Directive (EU) 2019/1937), adopted in 2019.
The proposed legislation entails, inter alia, protection for persons that in a work-related context have taken part in or obtained information on irregularities and report such irregularities. Hence, the proposed Swedish legislation is more far-reaching than the EU Directive, which only offers protection in case of breaches of Union law.
The protection shall also apply to those other than the reporting person, such as persons aiding the reporting person and the legal entity that the reporting person owns, works for or, in another way, has a connection to. The protection will consist of discharge from liability and prohibition against obstructive measures and retaliation. The legislation will also include provisions on the obligation to establish reporting channels, the processing of personal data and confidentiality.
The new legislation provides that companies, as a first step, must assess if routines need to be implemented for receiving and handling reports. All companies and organisations with more than 50 employees are obligated to implement secure internal reporting channels for reporting irregularities. The reporting system shall be available for anyone wishing to make a report. Further, independent and autonomous persons with competence to receive and follow up on the reports shall be appointed. The reports are to be investigated and the matter shall be documented. The reporting person shall receive information regarding the investigation.
The new legislation will have implications for the legal relationship between the employer and employee. An employee that reports an irregularity in good faith may not be subject to termination or liable for damages. This also applies if the reporting entails a disclosing of trade secrets. The protection for the reporting person is absolute and has priority over other undertakings, such as any contractual confidentiality undertaking.
The new legislation is proposed to enter into effect on 17 December 2021. The provisions on reporting channels and systems for receiving and following up reports will be applied for the first time on either 17 July 2022 or 17 December 2023, depending on the type of business and number of employees.
Transparent and predictable working conditions
In 2019, the EU adopted a new Directive on transparent and predictable working conditions (Directive (EU) 2019/1152). The Directive aims to ensure safer and more secure employment, and, at the same time, ensure the adaptability of the labour market, while improving living and employment conditions. Under the Directive, all workers in the EU will have the right to more complete written information on the essential aspects of the work. Further, minimum requirements are established regarding the duration of a probationary period, parallel employments, predictability of the work, transition to another form of employment and anti-abuse measures for zero-hour work contracts, etc.
The Directive shall be implemented in national law by August 2022, at the latest. This will bring about additional changes in the EPA.
Disputes related to disloyalty of employees
In recent times, there has been an increase in cases related to disloyalty of employees or former employees. The increase has been apparent in case law from the Swedish Labour Court. The most common situations are employees’ unauthorised use or disclosure of confidential information and engagement in business activities that are competitive with the business of the employer; eg, starting a competing business or accepting employment with a competitor.
Under Swedish employment law, the duty of loyalty is one of the most important principles in the relationship between an employer and an employee. This duty entails that the employee has to put the employer's interests first and above all other interests that the employee might have. The duty also means that the employee is prohibited from harming the employer or its business in any way during the employment relationship. The duty of loyalty concerns different aspects of the employment relationship; among others, the employee's obligation of confidentiality and non-competition. The duty of loyalty automatically applies during the whole term of employment, including the notice period. However, in order for the employee to be bound by confidentiality or non-competition after the employment has expired, such restrictions must be expressly agreed upon before termination of the employment, and preferably in the original employment agreement.
Regarding information about the employer's business, explicit regulations about confidentiality for employees towards their employer can be found in both CBAs and individual contracts. It is common to have confidentiality clauses in individual employment agreements, and there are no formal or procedural rules on how to conclude such agreements.
Further, the Swedish Trade Secrets Act is of great importance regarding confidentiality for employees, concerning the information that constitutes the employer’s trade secrets. The Act contains rules on responsibility and sanctions for an employee who, unauthorised, utilises or discloses trade secrets. The Act also contains different remedies available to the employer. However, as a rule, the Act only applies to breaches committed by the employee during the term of employment.
It is therefore advisable to include a confidentiality clause in the employment agreement, which prolongs the employee's confidentiality obligations after the employment has been terminated. The clause can also be accompanied by a clause on liquidated damages.
A common issue among employers is whether a post-termination non-competition clause in an individual employment agreement is enforceable under Swedish law. In order to enable an employer to protect its business, an employer may, in some cases, prohibit the employee from engaging in a competing business for a certain period after the employment has terminated. In 2015, a new CBA regarding the use of non-competition clauses was adopted by the labour market organisations. This CBA has affected the labour market in general, and also sets the standard for employers not bound by the CBA. Therefore, the CBA is now the legal instrument under which the validity of a non-competition clause is determined.
The Swedish Labour Court has in its case law adopted a restrictive view on the use of non-competition clauses. According to the CBA and case law, a non-competition clause may only be used in relation to certain employees; typically employees that, due to their position, gain knowledge of and handle know-how specific to the employer; ie, trade secrets. Further, the employee must also have the knowledge, education or experience to make use of the trade secrets. The employee must also be compensated for the inconvenience caused by the non-competition clause. As a rule, the non-competition clause can only be in force nine months after termination of the employment. However, if there are justifiable reasons, the clause could be in force for a maximum of 18 months. If the non-competition clause is found to be invalid, the employer risks not having any protection at all against competitive measures by the former employee. Non-competition clauses are therefore to be used carefully and with restriction.
As an alternative to a non-competition clause, the employer can always implement a longer period of notice for the employee. During the notice period, the employee is bound by the duty of loyalty, and thereby prohibited from engaging in competitive activities.
Foreign companies doing business in Sweden
The presence of foreign businesses in Sweden continues to increase. In this regard, there are some aspects that should be highlighted.
According to the Swedish Foreign Branches Acts, a foreign company that conducts business activities in Sweden must do so through a branch office or a Swedish subsidiary. A foreign company conducting business in Sweden has a duty to comply with several Swedish statutes, such as corporate statutes, and accounting and financial reporting legislation. According to case law, the term "business activities" has a wide scope, hence a wide range of activities has been deemed to constitute business activities. For example, concluding agreements in Sweden has been considered as business activities.
This generally means that a foreign company intending to have a presence in Sweden will have to establish a branch office or a Swedish subsidiary. The foreign company will also be obligated to report tax in a certain way and is, in general, liable to pay income tax in Sweden. Therefore, a foreign company intending to have a presence in Sweden, of any kind, should carefully examine the options available in order to avoid unforeseen consequences and costs.
Lastly, it should be noted that the obligation to conduct business through a branch office or a subsidiary does not apply if the foreign company, in its capacity as an employer, is posting employees to Sweden for work on a temporary basis.
The months leading up to 25 May 2018 were characterised by intensive preparations for the entering into effect of the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The following year, work related to GDPR issues slowed down significantly. However, since the beginning of 2020, there has been a second wave of GDPR matters in Sweden, which has also continued during 2021.
COVID-19 led to a significant increase in employees working from home and with it questions regarding the employer’s possibilities to monitor the employee’s usage of the employers equipment and systems, such as email accounts. It is the employer that decides how the work equipment may be used. If the employer has issued rules and guidelines for the usage of the equipment, the employer also has the right to verify that these rules are being complied with. However, emails often contain personal data which means that GDPR is applicable. When monitoring the employee’s email correspondence, the employer therefore needs to comply with GDPR, which, amongst others, includes an obligation to inform the employees beforehand that checks may take place as well as the type of measures that might be applied. Further, the checks may not be more invasive than necessary. It is also important to note that the employer’s possibility to monitor the employee’s email account varies depending on whether the emails are work-related or of a private nature.
GDPR is also relevant in connection with new legislation, which is the case with the proposed legislation on the protection of whistle-blowers. GDPR will be highly relevant, not for the whistle-blowing in itself, but for the employer’s managing of the reports through which whistle-blowing is taking place. The reports will likely contain personal data, which means that GDPR will have to be considered in regard to the method for collecting the information, anonymity issues, archiving, etc.