Workplace Discrimination in Norway Explained

Are you dreaming of moving to Norway to get a job and start a new life among the fjords and mountains? You’re not alone! There are lots of things you need to figure out to make this dream come true, and one of the questions we get asked the most is if there’s workplace discrimination in Norway.

So keep reading this article to learn all about workplace discrimination in Norway, what laws and regulations apply, and how you can deal with it.

It’s illegal for employers to discriminate against nationality, skin color, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, age, gender, political views and more, but workplace discrimination is still pretty common in Norway despite being illegal.

Man signing a contract
Photo published with permission.

Norway is considered to be one of the most equal countries in the world, but workplace discrimination still happens very often, although it’s often somewhat hidden and difficult to prove.

We’re going to take a deep-dive into workplace discrimination in Norway in this article, giving you all the information you need to know about the topic, as well as some good strategies to prevent being a victim of workplace discrimination.

What’s considered discrimination in Norway

Norway has its own laws against discrimination (“Lov om likestilling og forbud mot diskriminering“), and it’s very clear what they consider discrimination.

Basically, any unfair treatment or impartiality based on the following things is considered discrimination:

  • Age.
  • Political view.
  • Gender.
  • Pregnancy.
  • Childbirth or adoption.
  • Care responsibilities.
  • Ethnicity.
  • Religion.
  • Belief.
  • Disability.
  • Sexual orientation.
  • Gender identity.
  • Other significant characteristics of a person.

This means that employers are not allowed to not call someone in for an interview, not hire somebody, or let someone go, or give any negative attention to people because of these things.

An employer is not generally allowed to ask questions regarding any of these topics, unless there is a very good reason for doing so. Good reasons are things like if the church is hiring a priest or a mosque is hiring an imam (you want to make sure their beliefs align), or another position where the characteristic is in fact a real part of the job.

It's illegal to discriminate against pregnancies in Norway
It’s illegal to discriminate against pregnancies in Norway. Photo published with permission.

Much of this article will focus on discrimination against people in the hiring process, which is where it’s most common to be a victim of discrimination. But discrimination can also happen at other levels, such as not getting a promotion due to one of these things, or getting fired, bullied or harassed for them.

Is there workplace discrimination in Norway?

Despite the strict and to-point laws prohibiting workplace discrimination in Norway, it’s still very common.

Both foreigners, non-ethnic Norwegians, older people, pregnant women, transgender people and members of the other groups are being discriminated against when it comes to getting hired in a Norwegian workplace.

I know several people who feel that they have been discriminated against when on a job interview in Norway, and while we can’t really get the full truth based on how people feel treated, they are getting backed by surveys and scientific research on the topic.

There are also lots of amazing workplaces

While this article might make it seem all doom and gloom, that’s not really the case. Yes, there are some workplaces with discrimination problems, but there are also lots of amazing workplaces where they make everyone feel welcome, and celebrate different cultural insights instead of fearing it.

Norway is after fall considered to be one of the world’s countries with the highest level of equality, and most workplaces have great people working there.

There is also the opposite effect at some places; workplaces that want to diversify. These workplaces can urge groups to apply for the job (for example if a company want more women, more non-Norwegians or other groups to join to get new impulses), but they can not hire someone based on these factors.

Construction worker
Construction worker. Photo published with permission.

It’s much more difficult for foreigners to get a job in Norway

The unfortunate truth to Norway is that there is a certain level of structural discrimination against foreigners and people without a Norwegian ethnicity when applying for jobs, which has been shown by research papers asking this question.

This research has shown that two candidates who apply to the same job has a 25 % lower chance of being called in for an interview if they have a non-Norwegian sounding name.

Men were more discriminated based on foreign sounding names than women. You were also much more likely to be discriminated against if you applied for work in the private sector, compared to in the public sector.

These findings goes a long way to show that there is a level of discrimination towards foreigners and non-ethnic Norwegians in the Norwegian workplaces.

The paper was done by having two identical candidates, one with a Norwegian sounding name, and one with a Pakistani sounding name. Both candidates where born and raised in Norway, and spoke fluently Norwegian. So it’s probably going to be even more difficult for non-Norwegian citizens that are unfamiliar with Norwegian language as well.

There are currently no good peer-reviewed research papers that tackles the same problem at workplaces, but it is my understanding that many foreigners feel like there is a certain level of discrimination even at workplaces after they have been hired.

Many groups are discriminated against

This article has had a big focus on foreigners being discriminated against by their employers, seeing as most of our readers are not Norwegians themselves.

However, many Norwegian minority groups such as transgender persons, pregnant women, women in general, older people, and people with skin color often report being discriminated against.

All of this is completely illegal, but the big issue with reporting it or doing something about it is that the official response gives a different reason, and very few employers openly admits discrimination.

Workplace bullying based on ethnicity or other discrimination factors

Most workplace discrimination in Norway tend to be on the silent side, where the person who are being discriminated against might not get the same opportunity as someone else. But there are more serious cases of workplace discrimination as well, including straight up workplace bullying.

It’s obviously illegal for anyone, both co-workers and employers to make fun of someone because of any of the characteristics that constitutes discrimination. This includes mocking accents, making jokes based on these characteristics, or saying negative things in relation to these things.

This type of discrimination and bullying is even more serious than regular discrimination, and I urge everyone who have witnessed or experience something like this to gather evidence and get in touch with your workplace union to get a stop to this behavior.

Discrimination against not speaking Norwegian: Is it legal?

Language skills are not covered by the discrimination law by itself, but it can still be considered discrimination to refuse to hire someone based on Norwegian language skills.

Employers are free to not hire someone if they feel like a person’s skill in Norwegian is too low for the position. This can be because the position requires the employee to interact with clients in Norwegian, or because the position requires the employee to write reports or things like that in Norwegian.

On the flip side, an employer is not allowed to discriminate against someone’s lack of Norwegian if it’s not strictly required to do the job they apply for. For example, you might not be required to know any Norwegian at all if you apply for a position such as a software engineer in Norway, or for industries such as agriculture, cleaning and other positions that have no interactions with clients.

It’s not legal to discriminate against accents, as long as you speak the language to a degree where it’s adequate for the position.

Strawberry workers
Foreign strawberry pickers from low-income countries are common in Norway. These jobs have no requirement for speaking Norwegian. Photo published with permission.

How to combat workplace discrimination in Norway

Combating discrimination is unfortunately a bit difficult, and most people who are discriminated against when trying to find a job in Norway tend to just let it go.

The main reason for this is because there’s often no paper trail or evidence of the discrimination, and it’s difficult to actually prove that you were discriminated against.

For example: How can you prove that you didn’t get hired because of your ethnicity, and not because of some other reason? The employer is definitely going to list some other reason for not hiring you, even though you feel like discrimination might actually be the real reason.

The best tip is to gather all the evidence you can get your hands on. This is the first step, and will be needed if you decide to pursuit the case.

Taking legal actions against a workplace that has been discriminating you

It is definitely possible to take legal against against a case where you feel discriminated against. There is an governmental organization called The Equality and Anti-Discrimination Ombud, which main focus is to help people who are being discriminated in the workplace.

Get in touch with them to start the processes of potential legal action. They will not actually start the process for you, but rather help you determining if you have a case, and potentially what you need to get one.

You will eventually need to get help from a lawyer if you want to take your employer or a company to court, but the ombud can help you with getting this done.

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