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Rights and obligations of public servants

Public servants are employees working in a public-service relationship in central or local government or elsewhere in the public administration.

In central government, public servants work in ministries and agencies. Police officers, border guards and customs officials are also public servants.  In local government, public servants work in such jobs as teachers and as doctors and nurses in municipal social welfare and health care. 

Public servants also work in Parliament, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland and in such indirect public administration bodies as the Bank of Finland. There are also employees in contractual relationship in central and local government.

How is a public office filled?

As a rule, a vacant public office must be publicly advertised. However, fixed-term public offices, such as temporary posts, can in certain situations be filled without being publicly advertised. It may also be specifically laid down by law that certain public offices are filled without being publicly advertised.

The most competent of the applicants meeting the qualification and other requirements must be selected for the office.  All discrimination based on age, gender or other considerations is prohibited when the office is filled.

The employer may require that the person selected for the office presents details of their health and top government officials to present information on such matters as their shareholdings, assets or other commitments. These may be considered important when assessing their ability to perform the tasks related to the office that is to be filled. For example, if a public servant has a secondary job, they must notify their employer of the situation or they may also have to ask for the employer’s permission for performing the job. The employer may prohibit the office holder from having a secondary job if it considers that the job interferes with the carrying out of the office holder's main tasks.

Public power must be exercised in a responsible manner

Public servants exercise public power which means that they must strictly comply with the law and act in a neutral, independent and impartial manner. Public servants must also observe the secrecy obligation. Citizens have the right to appeal against decisions made by authorities that concern them and file complaints if they feel that a public servant has acted incorrectly.

Citizens have the right to obtain information about public documents and other recordings in the possession of the authorities. In accordance with the openness principle, all decisions made by the Finnish authorities are public unless it is provided in legislation that they are to be kept secret. The details of the document can be obtained by submitting a request for accessing the document in accordance with the Act on the Openness of Government Activities.

Obligations of a public servant at work and when not at work

Public servants are subject to liability for acts in office, which means that they are subject to stricter and more extensive legal liability for their acts as public servants and the consequences of the acts. If public servants neglect their official duties or acts in violation of them, they may be considered criminally liable. In addition to an authority, individual public servants are also liable for the damages that have resulted from their errors or negligence.

Public servants may not misuse their powers. Furthermore, they may not receive economic benefits that might negatively impact their independence as office holders.

When not at work, public servants may engage in societal and political activities and take part in the work of associations and organisations. However, they are also public servants when not at work: Also in their private life, they must conduct themselves in such a manner that citizens’ trust in them or in the authorities that they represent is not put at risk.


    Text edited by: Suomi.fi editorial team
    Updated: 1/28/2019