The current coronavirus crisis, with Spain as one of the main countries affected, has been caused by the global spread of COVID-19. As a result, governments are forced to act in all spheres. On an individual level, the virus spread has already had a major impact on daily life and now companies are beginning to see this as well. The labour cost has become a direct consequence of the spread of the virus.
It is precisely this issue that was addressed by the President of the Spanish Government during his appearance on the 10th of March. In this intervention, Pedro Sánchez informed the public that they are working on the deployment of a series of measures that is estimated to be published after the next Council of Ministers which is scheduled for this Thursday, March 12, and that they will also deal with labor issues.
At national level and in ‘areas of significant transmission’, many companies have had to consider initiatives to protect the safety of their teams as a precautionary measure to the health emergency in Spain. This, coupled with the temporary suspensions of schools and colleges, it is clear that many companies and their workers are beginning to prioritize the labour scope options that are to them.
The release of the ‘Guide for action in the labour field in relation to the new coronavirus’ (‘Guía para la actuación en el ámbito laboral en relación al nuevo coronavirus’) by the Ministry of Labour and Social Economy has provided guidelines with the aim of supplying the necessary information on the application of current labour regulations in relation to the possible situations in which companies and employees may find themselves.
With regard to labour law, the main measures proposed are as follows:
- Teleworking as an organizational mechanism: this decision will require that it be set up as a temporary and extraordinary measure which must be reversed when the reasons for it cease to exist, that it be in line with the applicable labour legislation and collective agreement, that it does not entail a reduction in health and safety rights and, finally, that the use of technology means does not entail a cost for workers.
- Total or partial suspension of the activity due to labour force adjustment plan: At this point, if the company is forced to suspend its activity in whole or in part, either by decision of the Health Authorities or indirectly, the mechanisms established in Article 47 of the ‘Estatuto de los Trabajadores’ and Real Decreto 1483/2012 of 29 October must be followed. According to this Guide, cases of force majeure must be attended to, and these are the following:
- Absenteeism rates that prevent the continuity of the company’s activity due to illness, adoption of medical isolation precautions, etc.
- Decisions by the Health Authority that recommend closure for precautionary reasons.
- Total or partial suspension of the activity without the processing of a labour force adjustment plan. On this point, the provisions of Article 30 of the ‘Estatuto de los Trabajadores’ would apply, while retaining the right to a wage, which has given rise to various interpretations, as this article highlights that the causes of suspension must be attributable to the company.
With regard to the measures already adopted and included in Real Decreto-Ley 6/2020 of the 10th of March, adopting urgent economic measures and for the protection of public safety, it is worth mentioning that periods of isolation or infection of workers as a result of COVID-19 are exceptionally considered as a situation assimilated to work-related accidents.
The duration of this benefit shall be determined in the corresponding leave part, and the date of the event caused for the isolation or illness will be established without prejudice to the fact that the part may be issued after the effective date. The Public Health Service will be responsible for health care and not for the mutual insurance companies as in situations of ordinary industrial accidents.
This measure will apply to employees and self-employed workers and will improve the benefit for ordinary sick leave by increasing it to 75 % of the regulatory base from the day following the date on which the leave takes effect.
Pending the package of measures announced by the Government which provides for a three-month moratorium on social security contributions or measures to balance work and family life, which are expected to be published to alleviate the effects of the shutdown of educational activity, both companies and employees are faced with an extraordinary situation which will bring about changes in the field of labour.