Domestic violence and labor relations

Rubén Agote. Professor. Instituto de Empresa. Partner at Cuatrecasas

21 February 2005

Spain recently saw modification of two major labor laws which will greatly benefit women in the workplace.

The adoption of the Law on Allround Protection against Domestic Violence on 22 December 2004 has led to the first change of the Workers' Statute Act, and the General Social Security Act, by the majority result of the elections of 14 March 2004. This has a dual purpose for female workers who are victims of domestic violence. It gives them the right to employment circumstances that allow greater protection from their aggressors, and enables the all-round social assistance needed for such cases.

The new rights apply only to the worker who is a victim of domestic violence in her private life. In other words, one who is attacked by a person who is or who has been her spouse, or who is or who has been in contact with her through a similar relationship, but has not lived with her.

The law says the worker shall have the right to reduce her workday, with a proportionate reduction in salary, as well as – and this is new – the right to reorganize her work by adapting her timetable, applying a flexible timetable or other ways of arranging her work hours in the company. The possibility of reorganizing hours will allow the worker to vary from shift work to working a split or continuous workday, or vice versa, or to have a fixed shift, among other possibilities, as long as the company has such a system in place. The terms for exercising this right are left to collective or individual negotiation. In the event of disagreement, the determination corresponds to the worker, albeit with consideration for the organizational needs of the company.

Furthermore, the worker will be given preference for transfer to a different workplace whenever a vacancy arises. This transfer, or change of workplace, has an initial duration of six months and includes the worker’s right to keep her original post. After this period, she can choose between returning permanently to her original workplace and keeping her new post.

Greater guarantees

The worker can also suspend her work contract for six months, although the judge is given room to extend the suspension to a maximum of 18 months using three-month extension periods, which are determined by the need for protection. This period is considered a payment period, so during this time the worker has the right to unemployment benefits.

Finally, the worker can voluntarily terminate her work contract and claim unemployment benefits. She likewise has the right to her time off work, not counting for the effects of dismissal due to absenteeism, as long as her absence is justified by her health or by social services.

To guarantee the effectiveness of these provisions, the law adds a new case of nullity of dismissal for situations where a worker’s contract is terminated because she has exercised rights set forth for her protection or social assistance.

The worker must be considered holder of these rights as long as she is covered by a protection order issued by a judge, or until such order is issued by a report from the Public Prosecutor’s Office stating that she is the victim of domestic violence.

The modification of these two main labor regulations – the General Social Security Act and the Workers’ Statute – does not mean that we are looking at labor reform in the traditional sense, as its purpose is to offer wider protection and guarantees of social assistance to women who are victims of this kind of violence. It has been agreed on unanimously and we wish it the best of luck.

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