The spark for employment law already emerged during a summer job
The enthusiasm for employment law that started from summer jobs and high school evening and weekend jobs has carried Tomi Haapman through employers’ organizations and Nordea Bank to Procopé & Hornborg. In addition to knowledge of legal matters, the journey has deepened insight into the importance of good management and leadership.
Summer jobs at the construction site, evening and weekend work at a fast-food restaurant and a store checkout, a janitor’s job, and a window dresser’s job in an international clothing chain. Tomi Haapman had diverse work experience even before he decided to apply to law school. After highschool and gap years spent in work life, the door to law school opened on the first try. In addition, Haapman got accepted into tailoring school, but in this case, the law deprived Finland of one promising tailor.
Practical work and long work experience gave perspective and spark to studies as well.
“When you saw many jobs, you also saw many different organizations and ways of leading. Sometimes there were situations that I couldn’t blindly accept. I started to wonder and research facts whether things could actually go the way they went,” says Haapman.
Haapman’s studies came at a time when the so-called Lex Nokia, a data protection of electronic communications legislation had entered into force in Finland. The law gave the employer the right to track the identification data of network users under certain conditions, i.e. to track if there has been a leakage of trade secrets via electronic communications.
In his thesis, Haapman addressed the employer’s right to process the identification of employees’ personal electronic communications data in suspected trade secret leakages. The possibilities of the Lex Nokia were rarely utilized making it more useful to Haapman’s thesis than employers.
“Lex Nokia, despite the wide publicity it received, was a failed law, and did not enable the objectives it had during the preparation stage. After all, hardly anything could be protected by said law, because who would leak things through their own work email,” says Haapman.
A lean compromise is better than a fat lawsuit
After studying, Haapman found a job at Suomen Yrittäjät, an organization representing Finnish entrepreneurs. There Haapman took part to legal counselling, where member entrepreneurs could ask for advice on the basics of employment and contract law. However, the actual calls were often about the most diverse issues. The job was an excellent place for a soon-to-be graduating lawyer to get a genuine touch on the legal challenges facing companies. It was so interesting that Haapman continues to answer the same calls weekly at Procopé & Hornborg on a voluntary basis along with his own work.
Since then, the road has taken Haapman, among other things, to biggest employers’ organizations Service Sector Employers Palta and Technology Industries of Finland.
“I have a comprehensive and cross-industry view of Finnish working life and labor market issues. At times the questions have been so concrete that I have gone to the factory floor, for example, to see how the production is organized so that I can give the best advice possible on a particular issue, e.g. working time models. Law rarely solves all matters and I believe that a lawyer should also know his client’s operations to a sufficient degree so that he can provide not only the correct legal advice, but also the option best suited for the situation.”
Haapman has also litigated before the District Court and the Employment Tribunal. Haapman has handled nearly 50 lawsuits related to employment law, of which a client represented by Haapman has only lost two.
“Defeat is always a disappointment. With clients, we try our best to assess when it makes more sense to avoid litigation and settle a case than to waste resources on a dispute where a loss is probable anyways.”
In spring 2018 Haapman started working as an employment lawyer at Nordea Bank in Finland. Most of the functions of the Nordic Bank were organized into cross-border entities. The GDPR, which came into force that spring, also brought a whole new set of issues in relation to the data protection of employees.
“During this time, the legislation of each Nordic country and the practices of each country had to be taken into account to formulate one approach that fitted all countries.”
Leadership trumps law
In March 2021, Haapman started as Head of Employment Practice at Procopé & Hornborg. He specializes in employment law, collective bargaining agreements, and employee data protection issues.
Although law is Haapman’s field, the conversation with the client often turns to management and leadership.
“This happens very often. In addition to legal matters, it is always wise to consider the far-reaching effects of decisions, for example, on work motivation and organizational culture. Even if the employer can legally act in a certain way, it is also necessary to determine whether it is beneficial.”
The most difficult issues for customers tend to be decisions related to redundancies or terminations of employment due to malpractice. In large companies the stumbling block may, among other things, be the demand for equal treatment of the employees.
“The standard for issuing a warning or terminating an employment contract may vary in different units of the same company. In this case, you find yourself on the wrong side of the law, because workers are not treated equally. Coordination of rules and internal practices are extremely important to be compliant with the employment legislation.”
Knowledge of employment law is often a major challenge for managers whose core competence lies in an entirely other field, namely the business itself. Responsibility of the managers is emphasized by the fact that a breach of obligations may result as a criminal liability, which may also extend to the employer’s representative. This factor is not always acknowledged by managers and representatives of the employer.
For instance, the Supreme Court recently issued a precedent ruling in a case in which a manager had ordered his subordinates to monitor the work email of a former employee.
“The employee had given consent to his email being monitored during the period of employment, but the consent did not apply after the termination of the employment contract. The supervisor was convicted of violating the secrecy of personal communication of the employee.”
An earthquake surprised the world traveller
Tomi Haapman developed an interest in travelling in his early adulthood, but during the past few years he has unfortunately been running low on travel experiences. Two young children, a demanding professional position and COVID-19 have kept the traveller in his home country. The efficient lawyer still makes time to go for jogs and to the gym
Haapman’s most memorable travel experience is a trip to Japan, when the whole city of Osaka was struck by a strong earthquake. “When I woke at the hotel one morning, the whole hotel building was literally swinging and shaking. I must admit that I got homesick that second.” That’s when Haapman learned to read travel insurance policies differently.
My spouse’s travel insurance reimbursed a new trip home. Mine however didn’t because the insurance did not cover natural disasters the same way as the insurance was taken from a different insurance company. It was a little frightening to be in Osaka for a few more days waiting for my own flight to depart, as the aftershocks continued throughout the rest of my stay.”
What about your enthusiasm for great tailoring?
“My interest in classical menswear runs so deep that you can probably find more suits and other pieces of clothing in my wardrobe than there are in some clothing stores.” laughs Haapman.