Press releases

A teacher's freedom of speech was violated by the municipality

Parliamentary ombudsman proposes compensation

A reprimand for the violation of a teacher's freedom of speech was issued to the headmaster of an upper comprehensive school by Parliamentary Ombudsman Petri Jääskeläinen. He requests the municipality to consider how this violation of freedom of speech could be redressed and how the teacher could be compensated.

In autumn 2012, the municipality had issued a written warning to the teacher as a result of his talk at a parents' evening in which he had made reference to the number of optional PE lessons.

The Parliamentary Ombudsman finds that issuing a warning to the complainant for exercising his freedom of speech constituted a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights and the Finnish Constitution.

The Ombudsman also notes that before the warning was issued, the balance between public servants' freedom of speech and their duty of loyalty had not been adequately considered. Issuing a written warning for exercising the freedom of speech was also not proportionate and necessary in a democratic society.

- In my opinion, in this isolated case the municipality did not come anywhere near to achieving a fair balance between a public servant's freedom of speech on one hand and the interests of the municipality on the other, says Jääskeläinen.

The local executive of the municipality was asked to report to the Parliamentary Ombudsman on actions taken as a consequence of his proposal by the end of September.

The Parliamentary Ombudsman had investigated the case after the teacher had filed a complaint.

No grounds for a warning found

In the talk that he prepared for the parents' evening the teacher announced that, with the children's best interest in mind, he wished to know when the pupils would have the possibility of choosing additional PE lessons. 

Among other things, the school considered that the teacher had been in breach of the curriculum in force and acted to promote his personal interests.  This was felt to have adversely affected the atmosphere and mutual trust within the school. 

The Parliamentary Ombudsman found no grounds for interfering with the teacher's freedom of speech in this case. According to the Ombudsman, it is natural for a PE teacher to bring up issues concerning the subject he or she teaches without being motivated by self-interest.

- In my opinion, his contribution was of general interest, at least in the local context, and it was made in the name of the best interest of children and related to children's welfare.
In his decision, Jääskeläinen examined the principles associated with a public servant's freedom of speech in a broad context in the light of the Constitution, the European Convention on Human Rights and rulings of the European Court of Human Rights.

The warning may prevent the exercise of freedom of speech

Jääskeläinen also refers to his earlier decisions on freedom of speech, in which he has pointed out that a written warning issued for the exercise of a fundamental right is a severe consequence imposed on an employee by his or her supervisors, as it is associated with the threat of dismissal.
Its severity is also underlined by the fact that a municipal office holder cannot appeal the warning to a court as such.

- In other words, a warning may prevent the exercise of freedom of speech, as the public servant or others working for the same employer are afraid to use it.

Parliamentary Ombudsman Jääskeläinen's decision No 285/4/14, further information available from Senior Legal Adviser Mikko Sarja, tel. +358 (0)9 432 3364.