One of the consequences of COVID-19 has been the complete transformation of labor relations, with a series of challenges for which legislation was not always prepared. Telework in general, the difficult conciliation, virtual meetings and changes in the organization of work have tested both companies and workers in recent weeks.

Since the beginning of the health emergency caused by COVID-19 and millions of citizens having been confined to their homes, many things have changed in our relations. Not only do we refer to the flood of labor and Social Security regulations, but also to the transformation in the way we work, at least since March 14, 2020.

During this time, workers have had to adapt, whenever technically possible, to working from home and to combine their work with taking care of their children and other family members, holding virtual meetings or attending work and complying with the applicable health measures. And it has also meant important changes for companies. Unexpectedly, we have subjected each other by force to the greatest experiment in labor relations in the history of the world.

In Spain, this forced experiment in telework has also taken place under quite a poor legislative framework, as we only have article 13 of the Workers’ Statute on working remotely, now joined by regulations contained in Royal Decree-Law 8/2020, establishing the preferential nature of telework -provided it is technically and reasonably possible- as opposed to other forms of suspending services. However, the telework experiment has also highlighted certain company and worker needs. Firstly and despite the importance of digitalization at the present time, a substantial number of companies are not technically prepared to provide all their workers with the possibility of working remotely. At the same time, there is also a large number of workers that are not prepared, or at least not sufficiently prepared, to perform their functions by telework.

Another one of the challenges has been the need to combine work with taking care of children (due to the suspension of classes and closure of schools), while being confined with their children at home or to take care of other family members. This has brought to light that in our labor relations system, the mechanisms to ensure the care of children and family members needs to be strengthened and extraordinary situations must be taken into consideration, in which workers need flexible formulas to care for children and families, without overlooking the need for companies to plan their work. Royal Decree 8/2020 has introduced special regulations (reduced working hours of up to 100%) to deal with these needs, due to the lack of other legislation.

In addition, during this time of confinement, meetings between work colleagues, between companies and worker representatives, companies and clients, etc. are still necessary and even essential to deal with this unknown and difficult situation. As a result of restrictions on mobility and the need for preventive measures, the majority of personal meetings have been suspended and, thanks to technology, have been possible by virtual means. A special mention should be made of the consultation periods of the so-called ERTEs, for which it has been necessary to search for alternative ways of meeting in person.

The current health emergency has also brought changes in the organization of personal work, due to the need to adopt the necessary health measures. Workers that continue to provide their services in person are, more than ever, required to comply with health and hygiene regulations in order to avoid infection, which means less direct contact with colleagues, taking breaks during working hours in a scaled manner to avoid agglomeration and to eliminate other habitual practices that imply high concentration of people at certain places in the work center. In general, companies are required to plan more and workers to the more disciplined.

All these situations after the pandemic has concluded will possibly mark the beginning of a total transformation of labor relations. Companies and workers are experiencing new ways of working, with their advantages and disadvantages, that are bringing out the best of us, however also highlighting issues that we need to improve and advance that will be very useful in the future and contribute to the obvious need to change.

Vanessa Orive Sánchez

Garrigues Employment & Labor Law Department