Permanent employment is strongly encouraged by Norwegian employment law. Temporary employment is possible, but there's a lot of rules to understand for both the employer and employee.
It's fair to say that Norway is a very worker-friendly country. Employees are protected from being taken advantage of by employers through law.
An important element of Norwegian employment law is that employers should hire permanently, although there are some exceptions.
But restrictions on temporary workers are not always easy for business owners to manage, especially small startups. So while the Norwegian Working Environment Act does protect employees, there is another side to the story.
Here is what you should know about temporary contracts, and when it might be illegal for you to work.
Illegal temporary contracts
Worst things first. There are always employers who take advantage of people and want to sign illegal temporary contracts. There are gray areas and loopholes.
Contrary to what most people think, the public sector in Norway is not best in class. An example is health services, which has a high rate of temporary workers.
There are also examples of exploitation and social dumping even in Norway, and hiring temporarily may be a part of this.
Remember, if you don’t speak Norwegian perfectly, or don’t know the system, you may be more exposed to this. This especially applies to work immigrants coming to Norway to work for a short time.
Norway has a long tradition of protecting employees, and over the years this has been solidified through strong involvement of the worker’s unions.
The right to permanent work is somewhat engraved in the Norwegian soul and an important part of Norway’s social democracy.
Read more: How to Find Job Vacancies in Norway
There is little political controversy around all of this. And even to question if the Environment Act is too employee-oriented will also get many Norwegians fired up.
The left-side of politics is, not surprisingly, more protective of employees. Today’s Store government very recently made some adjustments that makes it more difficult than before to sign temporary contracts.
Legal temporary contracts
So, when is it legal to hire temporarily?
When you step in for someone else
If you are hired to replace somebody who is on leave (vikariat), this is legal. Examples are when somebody is on sick leave or parental leave.
When the work is of a temporary nature
It is legal to hire temporarily when he work is needed for a limited period of time. Examples are seasonal work in the farming industry or in the entertainment business before Christmas.
This also applies to projects with deadlines. Another example is when a company experiences an increased demand for products or services for a limited period of time.
Other less common exceptions
It is legal to hire people temporarily when NAV is involved in the hiring process. Another exception is hiring of trainees.
Additionally, some positions within the sports sector, for example referees and athletes are exempt from the main rule.
Notice of termination
If you have been employed for more than a year, the employer has, in most cases, to give you written notice of termination at least one month in advance.
This applies regardless of the date of termination being specified in the contract. Employers failing to do this are obliged to prolong your contract for a minimum of one month.
Long-term temporary contracts
When you have been hired for more than three or four years (this depends on the contract), you are entitled to permanent work within the company.
This part of the law is complicated because there are some gray areas. And this is where some employers are somewhat creative and find solutions to work around the system.
If in doubt, consult your human resources contract, trade union, or even a private lawyer.
The other side of the story
There seems to be a common perception that hiring permanently is always more advantageous for everyone. But there is another side of the story that many people tend to forget.
The fact is, the restrictions, combined with how hard it is to fire someone in Norway, makes it a lot harder for some employers to run their businesses.
This may especially apply to small companies and startups, and not because they want to exploit people.
Being an employer in Norway is demanding and very time consuming. And when starting up alone, without a support system of accountants and HR, the idea of hiring someone on a permanent basis, can be straight out frightening.
Many entrepreneurs end up not hiring at all, but choose to buy services from other companies. It is also harder for small companies to work around the system. If someone takes them to court, this might result in bankruptcy.
More than 50% of all startups in Norway don’t survive the first year. While the restrictions on temporary employment are not the only reason, they are certainly a contributing factor.
When buying services from other businesses, the Working Environment Act doesn’t apply. Obvious examples are accounting and cleaning services, but there are very few limitations in regards to this.
Some people prefer temporary work
Many people also tend not to see that quite a few actually want to work temporarily. This may feel more flexible, and is easier to combine with for example freelance work. But even if an employee actually wants to sign a temporary contract, it may often not be legal.
If you want to work on a temporary basis, or have a hard time finding permanent work, it could be a good idea to contact a temp agency. There are several around the country, and they are for the most part, very serious.
Depending on your skills and jobs available, the agency will place you in short-term or long-term positions. Some also help in finding permanent work. The Environment Act also regulates all of this, and the same rules apply. For example, it is not legal to use temp agencies to fill permanent positions.
Where to find more information
All of this may seem very complicated. However, there are some good resources in English.