Head teacher’s freedom of speech violated by a city official
The Deputy-Ombudsman’s substitute Mikko Sarja has reprimanded the head of a local education and culture department for violating a head teacher’s freedom of speech. He asks the city council to consider how this violation of freedom of speech could be redressed and how the head teacher could be compensated. The city council has until the end of May 2019 to give an account of the actions taken in response to the reprimand.
A city official gave the head teacher a written warning in January 2018. According to the city official, the head teacher had broken her superiors’ trust by sending a letter to the trustees without consulting her superiors, failed to follow her employer’s instructions by sending an invitation to the local education and culture committee and behaved inappropriately at an information event. The head teacher’s actions had related to the amalgamation of sixth form colleges, which the head teacher had not supported.
The Deputy-Ombudsman’s substitute investigated the case on the basis of a complaint filed by the head teacher and concluded that the grounds for the warning were not legally tenable in the circumstances in question. Giving the head teacher a warning for exercising her freedom of speech therefore constituted a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights and the Constitution of Finland.
According to the Deputy-Ombudsman’s substitute, it is natural for a head teacher, as a representative of their school and an expert in their field, to express their own and their school’s views on issues such as the amalgamation of sixth form colleges and the implementation of the amalgamation project even if those views are critical of the project.
The Deputy-Ombudsman’s substitute based his decision on a broad examination of the principles associated with a public servant’s freedom of speech in light of perspectives such as the Constitution of Finland, the European Convention on Human Rights and rulings of the European Court of Human Rights.
The Deputy-Ombudsman’s substitute also referred to the Parliamentary Ombudsman’s earlier decisions on freedom of speech, which have 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.
The full text of the decision issued by the Deputy-Ombudsman’s substitute Mikko Sarja, 1661/2018, is available (in Finnish) on the Parliamentary Ombudsman’s website at www.oikeusasiamies.fi.
For more information, please contact Senior Legal Adviser Päivi Pihlajisto on +358 (0)9 432 3388.