Employment offences – the devil is in the detail and early assistance

After advising a number of clients on Occupational Health and Safety-related (OHS) criminal matters during the past decade, some observations can be made on issues that have come up repeatedly. These issues were widely discussed at a recent seminar entitled “Employment Offences”, organized by Alma Talent / Lakimiesliiton Koulutus.

During long and exhaustive criminal proceedings, even minor, seemingly innocuous comments can be brought up years later during the court proceedings regardless of whether they were originally of a technical nature or simply a comment on a question asked by an inspecting authority. Based on our experience, the following advice should be given to all those who witness an accident at their facility or answer a query from an inspecting authority following the accident:

  • The old phrase “anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law” also applies in Finland in relation to OHS matters. So please keep in mind that unintended comments could come back to haunt you in court years later in a different context.
  • It is crucial to acknowledge that internal analysis and inspection reports produced by companies are produced for a different purpose than investigations conducted by the police and Regional State Administrative Agency (RSA). The police, RSA and Public Prosecutor’s Office will interpret a company’s internal documents in a way that furthers their case during the proceedings. All too often, false conclusions are drawn from companies’ internal investigatory reports. Therefore, always consult your trusted advisor before submitting internal documents to the police.
  • Attorneys may not be experts when it comes to technical processes, but they are experts when it comes to assessing the nature of actions in the light of the OHS rules laid down in the Penal Code.

Asking an experienced lawyer to assist employees from your organization at an early stage in criminal proceedings even before the police have begun the pre-trial investigation, and especially during the hearings, is often a sound investment.

If those suspected of having committed a criminal offence are able to issue a statement which is technically correct and, in particular, corresponds to the message they are trying to convey, these significant misunderstandings can be avoided. In OHS matters, those suspected of an offence do not usually have extensive experience of being questioned as a suspect and, therefore, might use unintended words and expressions.

As regards employment-related criminal matters, one should always be aware of the different roles of the parties involved. Inaccurate statements made at the beginning of the process usually lead to misinterpretations which are difficult to correct later on.

The RSA sees everything from their perspective, which usually differs from the defendant’s point of view even through a close co-operation when it comes to promoting occupational safety is a high priority for everyone.

In the recent seminar on employment offences, representatives from the RSA, the Public Prosecutor’s Office and attorneys all emphasized the importance of early engagement during the investigation as a tool to ensuring a fair and comprehensive investigation process and fair trial.

Don’t be late  – let the advisors help you.