Hard-Hit Spain: The Local Employee Experience and Legislation Impacting Employers

Spain is dealing with the second worst coronavirus outbreak in Europe.


Spain is dealing with the second worst coronavirus outbreak in Europe.  The regions of Madrid and Catalonia, which have the largest cities and significant employer presence, have been the hardest hit.

Eight out of ten people in Madrid, Spain will contract COVID-19.

Isabel Díaz Ayuso, President of the Region of Madrid

In response to the pandemic, the government ordered a state of emergency and put the country in lockdown.1All residents were ordered to stay at home  except for performing essential activities, including going to the grocery store or pharmacy, getting medical treatment, caring for an elderly or sick person or walking a pet. To enforce these rules, authority’s setup about 30,000 roadblocks,2 with police and drones patrolling streets, to reprimand and enforce fines for those not adhering to the regulations. Also, restrictions on the entry of non-resident or Spanish citizens within the Spanish territory were enforced; the only people who can travel to Spain are Spanish citizens returning to Spain, transporters of goods, flight personnel, diplomats or people who prove causes of force majeure.

The lockdown, which began on March 14, is now being slowly and strategically lifted.  Manufacturing and construction company employees, who are unable to work from home, will now be able to return to work, while stores and restaurants will remain closed. "The velocity of the increase of the virus is decreasing throughout Spain," stated Maria José Sierra, a spokesperson for Spain's health emergency coordination center. 4

Health System Response

Spain has a strong health care system, often ranked in the world’s top 10, with access to high- quality public health care considered a right.  In addition to a robust single-payer public health care system, the health care model also includes private hospitals and private clinics. These private facilities make up approximately half of the country’s hospitals and about a third of the country’s available hospital beds. While only 20% of the population has private health insurance, many companies (such as Business Group members) do offer supplemental company- sponsored health insurance.5

The health care system is managed regionally, so the hospitals are funded and controlled by regional governments.  In an effort to improve its response to the pandemic, the government took control of private health care companies and hospitals. Although supplies were arriving, medical associations say doctors and nurses are working in unhealthy conditions due to a lack of protective equipment—a situation found in other countries as well. The government also confirmed that nearly 25,000 health care professionals in Spain have tested positive for COVID-19 – representing about 15% of all confirmed cases.6

Understandably, citizens are extremely concerned, especially with the death tally growing every day. Among the many ways Spanish citizens are uniting and providing social connectiveness and support to each other during this time of social distancing is the practice of daily public applause. Every evening at 8:00, people go out on their balconies and honor the health care workers on the front lines of the crisis by giving them a round of applause.

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Legislative Response: What Employers Need to Know

The Spanish government announced the following measures in response to COVID-19, including those enacted by Royal Decree-Law:3, 6

  • Paid leave: Compulsory paid leave is in place for all employees who do not provide essential services.
  • Dismissal polices: During the state of emergency, dismissals based on objective causes related to COVID-19 will be deemed unjustified.
  • Remote working recommendations: The government strongly recommends remote working. Employees of companies who do not provide essential services (e.g., food and beverage, pharmacy, financial services, etc.) are prohibited from going to the workplace.
  • Caring for dependent family members: These employees (i.e., those with children whose schools have been closed) may adapt their working conditions and reduce working hours under specific circumstances due to COVID-19.
  • Notification of infection:If any employee has been exposed to or infected by COVID-19, companies must immediately inform the Spanish competent authorities.Companies must inform those employees/customers/providers who have been in direct contact with the infected employee or with the employee who has been exposed to COVID-19.3

The government has also announced several policies to assist both self-employed workers and companies, mainly small and medium-sized ones, to address the socioeconomic and health care impacts of the crisis. The government is working to roll out a universal basic income as soon as possible,  part of a battery of actions aimed at countering the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, according to Economy Minister Nadia Calvino. On March 12, the Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez Pérez-Castejón announced a €200 billion ($231 billon) package, about 20% of the Spanish GDP, to help companies and protect workers and vulnerable groups affected by the coronavirus crisis. 6, 7, 8

Next Steps and Considerations

The dramatic spread of COVID-19 has disrupted the global workforce, and its ripple effects will be felt for a long time to come. As employers continue to navigate this “new normal,” it is important to review the company’s policies and procedures and proceed with caution as employees begin to return to work. It would be prudent to continue to review business and personal travel policies and the company’s approach to leave as part of the ongoing effort to support the workforce in these unprecedented times.

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