Eduardo Alemany participates in the IR Global Disputes Virtual Series - COVID-19: Unprecedented Times, Desperate Measures

Published 31 March 2020 by Alemany Zaragoza @ Associates

Foreward by Andrew Chilvers

The coronavirus pandemic has caused governments across the world to take measures that impact the movement of people rarely if ever, seen in peacetime before. Understandably, this has adversely affected businesses and created a host of employment law issues in every country.

When the first case of coronavirus – or COVID-19 – was reported in Wuhan, China in December 2019, nobody could have guessed that within three months it would spread across the globe at lightning speed. Indeed, from the start of March hundreds of thousands of cases of the disease have been reported in more than 160 countries and territories, resulting in thousands of deaths.

The speed of the spread of the virus – declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization on March 11 – caught governments across the world off guard. And many have since reacted with draconian action. This includes travel restrictions, quarantines, curfews and event cancellations, and advising people to avoid all but essential contact with each other for the foreseeable future.

Of course, this has had a tremendous impact on employment and with employment law in ways that have never been seen before. For instance, with employees being told to stay at home, flexible working has become more common than ever, although in some professions it just isn’t feasible. What this means for employers and employees – especially in terms of payment for those employees who have to take time off because they are sick, to quarantine or self-isolate, or to take care of dependents – has never been tested and different jurisdictions are reacting in different ways.

With the COVID-19 crisis and the response to it among different countries evolving daily, employment lawyers are advising employers on what they can or cannot do to safeguard their businesses and their employees under existing legislation. And the disease is spreading faster than laws can be adopted – although some countries are starting to respond quickly to take care of workers and ensure that businesses stave off bankruptcy.

How are companies responding to COVID-19 (the coronavirus) and what practical suggestions do you have?

Unfortunately, Spain is one of the countries most affected by COVID-19 and so measures have had to be taken as a matter of urgency. Initially, employers sent their employees home to avoid contagion. They adapted their workplaces to respect and facilitate the employees' ability to provide their services while protecting their health.

After this, the Government decreed that those sent home due to COVID-19 will receive a financial benefit. Lastly, a legal system has been established so that companies that have to cease their activity can suspend their workers’ contracts in order to receive state aid and maintain full health coverage.

In this case, the most important thing is people’s health and family reconciliation should be encouraged so that employees can take care of their relatives.

For our part, we are trying to offer new options to clients to avoid traumatic situations by negotiating with employees’ representatives and, above all, by providing flexibility

The coronavirus is moving faster than the law – how are lawyers responding and adapting to this evolving crisis?

As usual, we have had to adapt to regulations that have not taken this exceptional situation into account. The reality of the situation is moving faster than the regulations allow for. We must advise and help entrepreneurs in this new situation in which we must live and that we were not prepared for.

As a result of the state of emergency, activity has ceased in most companies and workers have had to leave their offices and begin teleworking. Workers are attending videoconferences instead of meetings.

When teleworking is not possible, health and hygiene measures have had to be adapted to the workplace. Finally, as a consequence of the state of emergency and the limitation of the movement of people, it has been decided that workers should stay at home. The work system is going to change and, as a result of this global crisis, new situations are going to arise that will affect workers and employers.

The government is encouraging the reduction of employees' working hours and the state will pay them a benefit for the period in which they are not working. The government has also established financial aid for companies so that the impact on their economy is as small as possible. One of these states that companies will not have to pay social security for these workers until they are providing their services. In any case, small and medium-sized enterprises are going to suffer a huge impact as a result of this situation.

For our part, we are trying to offer new options to clients to avoid traumatic situations by negotiating with employees’ representatives and, above all, by providing flexibility.

The main questions are: how long will this situation last and what impact will it have on human relationships? Rebuilding all that we have been achieving in terms of human resources will be a difficult and long process.

Employees will receive financial aid from the government which will amount to less than 50% of their average salary. If this situation continues over a longer period of time, the recovery will be very long. their offices and begin teleworking. Workers are attending videoconferences instead of meetings

How are specific industries or sectors and their employees impacted and what are the potential legal consequences?

It must be taken into account that the main economic industry in Spain is tourism which highlights the huge impact this situation has on our economy.

The restaurant sector and small businesses have also been affected. With the state of alarm and the limitation of movement of people, all these industries have been hugely affected and the majority have had to close down. For this reason, the government has established measures to be applied immediately so that these sectors can stop paying wages and social security and their workers can receive financial help.

Another one of the most affected groups is the gig economy and the self-employed, given that their social insurance is lower and consequently they have more difficulty dealing with this situation. That is why the government is offering financial help that will allow them to better manage this situation. They will be able to pay their taxes later, will be offered more social insurance and will receive financial help.

In spite of all this and taking into account that this situation will continue over time, we hope that new measures will be implemented to help mitigate the existing circumstances and lay the foundations for a strong and speedy recovery.