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Home > Corporate Law > Hiring and Firing in Spain: Don’t Get Burnt!

Hiring and Firing in Spain: Don’t Get Burnt!

February 22nd, 2010

Business is toughI very much enjoyed reading an article written by Eleanor Mill in the Sunday Times in respect of how overprotective EU employment legislation is interfering severely with women’s careers because of provisions on maternity leave. Eleanor says that “legislation designed to protect women is now killing them with kindness” because it almost forces them to stay at home “pureeing carrot” for up to, depending on the country, 3 years when they have made some choices, working being one of them!

I don’t intend to make an analysis or comparison between the different jurisdictions in place across the EU but because Eleanor’s article coincided in time with a labour dispute we had in our office I would like to expand a bit on the opposite, that is, how can a pregnant worker who wishes to never work again (judging by her acts it cannot be otherwise) take advantage of Spanish laws and endlessly link a series of leave periods of different nature to avoid coming back to work and all the while getting paid.

In our case, the worker, who was pregnant, had verbally agreed that she would take maternity leave for a number of months and on her return she would resign, taking with her a reasonable package. She had her baby and it all went well and good until she was due back in the office to implement the agreement we had, when she decided that the agreement was no longer good enough for her because she could get far more from us (inasmuch as even though she is not working the employer still has to pay) and from the social security system…

Chronologically, the events can be summarised as follows:

  1. Sick leave (high risk pregnancy/painful back): 23 weeks
  2. Maternity leave: 16 weeks
  3. Breastfeeding leave: 2 weeks
  4. Holidays: 4 weeks
  5. Sick leave again (anxiety this time): 9 weeks… and counting.

When I spoke to a colleague with vast expertise in labour to ask him for some advice, he broke into a laughter and reproached me that “it served me well for hiring women of a certain age because they were explosive devices which detonate by pregnancy”. I don’t have to say how much I disapproved his comment, but it had me thinking for some moments after which he said that the only way to tackle this problem was to reach an agreement with the employee because, in his experience, Courts in Spain would always rule in their favour and until reaching a ruling I would still have to pay wages and social security cover (a horrific 30% of the salary!)

Two months later received another registered letter with acknowledgement of content (burofax) indicating that she was pregnant again…

Aside from this, it appears that, due to the crisis, some employees are taking their employers to Court in spite of pre-agreed work conditions that don’t suit them any longer. As an example I can cite two typical examples:

  1. Employer hires under the condition that the employee will not claim the extortionate 45 days of salary per year worked (the famous “finiquito”, which is considered to be one of the causes of our near to 20% unemployment and 25% in Andalucía). The employee agrees gleefully and shakes hands but when he loses his job he reneges on the deal due to the fact that these rights cannot be waived and takes his employer to the cleaners.
  2. Employer enters a contract with a self employed worker (autonomo), which is a contract typically used in the real estate industry and with some lawyers. Since plenty of case-law deems that this type of contract is used by employers to avoid social security and redundancy payments it can successfully be morphed to a full labour contract, through the Employment Tribunal, which will hit the employer, retrospectively, with a request for unpaid social security, fines, interest, redundancy etc. Enough to put anyone off employing in Spain forever!

I will finally add that in my experience, real estate workers, in particular sales representatives, have an extremely high ratio of honouring verbal agreements when fired under an “autonomo” contract, far more than lawyers hired under those same circumstances (sorry colleagues!).

So what it the solution to the above? According to the trend of our unemployment rate and our average salaries in comparison to the rest of Europe, there is only one solution (unions will blacklist me for saying this): don’t hire in Spain, or if you do, make sure salaries are very low, and if you can avoid it, don’t sign indefinite contracts!

About Antonio Flores

Antonio Flores is the head lawyer at Lawbird, a Spanish law firm specialised in property and litigation. More on .

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