From NATO membership to workplace readiness: Sweden’s comprehensive approach to national defense

Insights|April 30, 2024

As Sweden solidifies its stance on national security through NATO membership and a robust total national defense policy, employers across the nation are navigating a new landscape of preparedness and responsibility. Our employment law expert, Jenny Welander Wadström, sheds light on the crucial measures employers must take to reduce vulnerabilities.

In Sweden’s comprehensive approach to national defense, every workplace, irrespective of its size or sector, will experience the ramifications of increased preparedness levels. This includes an obligation for employers to stay informed about total defense duties and to communicate these responsibilities to their employees effectively. As Jenny Welander Wadström emphasizes, “There could be war in Sweden,” a possibility underscored by recent governmental and military leadership statements.

The impact of Sweden’s total defense obligation is particularly pronounced for businesses deemed essential to societal functioning in times of crisis. These include sectors like electrical energy, information technology, food production, pharmaceuticals, and critical infrastructure. Companies within these categories are tasked with self-assessing their societal importance and developing contingency plans to ensure operational continuity during crises or wartime scenarios.

Another significant aspect of Sweden’s defense strategy is the presence of conscription and civil duty personnel into the workforce. The reintroduction of civil service, Welander Wadström points out, will likely increase employee absences due to required training, especially in critical areas such as municipal rescue services and electricity supply. Employers are advised to accommodate these absences, with strict advisories against penalizing employees for fulfilling their national defense obligations – a stance that could lead to legal disputes.

Further complicating employer responsibilities are scenarios where employees with specialized skills vital in a crisis—such as electricians, engineers, IT specialists, or healthcare professionals – might be redeployed to maximize their contribution to the national defense effort. Such redeployments come with assurances of continued compensation, either from the new employer or the state, and protection against termination from their original positions.

Welander Wadström strongly advises employers to engage in proactive planning, identifying key personnel and strategizing on how to manage potential staff shortages effectively. This planning should extend to understanding the intricacies of employment rights under national defense obligations and ensuring managerial staff are well-informed of these duties.

“Large groups may disappear from the workplace, and the employer must be prepared for that,” she says, highlighting the need for both strategic foresight and operational flexibility among Swedish businesses. “As Sweden navigates the complexities of maintaining national security within a global alliance framework, the corporate sector plays a pivotal role in ensuring societal resilience and continuity in the face of unprecedented challenges.”

If you want to know more about the topic, listen to our recent podcast by our experts Hanna Thempo and Jenny Wadström Welander.