Under the collective labor rules on the refund of accommodation and living expenses, companies usually lay down guidelines or in-house rules on questions such as the valid documents for supporting the expense, the time limit for the worker to support the incurred expense, compliance with a specific procedure or application form for a refund, and the like.

On this subject, the Supreme Court (Labor Chamber) recently delivered a judgment on September 15, 2016, confirming the judgment by the National Appellate Court (Labor Chamber) on April 9, 2015, in a collective dispute over the company approving in-house rules requiring the workers to produce documents to support lunch and dinner expenses.

The judgment explained the following background facts:

  • the company-wide collective labor agreement determined the rules on refunds of expenses in connection with secondments or assignments.

Workers on secondment were entitled to receive a per diem and traveling expenses. A fixed sum was determined for per diems for Spain and abroad, which covered accommodation, lunch and dinner.

The collective labor rules determined that the per diems would be paid on delivery in all cases of the relevant receipt for accommodation expenses.

  • the rules on secondments approved by the company determined, among other questions, that workers had to provide supporting documents for incurred expenses for them to be refunded, in respect of either accommodation or lunch and dinner.

Based on the background facts described above, the Supreme Court concluded that the collective labor rules only require documents for accommodation expenses not for lunch and dinner expenses (if the collective agreement expressly asks for supporting documents for only one of the items covered by the per diems then it is not asking for this in relation to the other two).

So, it held that the company has no grounds in either the statutory law or the collective labor agreement for requesting support for lunch and dinner expenses from workers on secondment, because fixed sums were agreed in the collective labor agreement and the need for support was only specified for accommodation expenses.

But beyond the letter of the provisions in the collective labor agreement, the national appellate court judgment giving rise to this proceeding produced an even clearer parameter:

  • if a fixed sum is agreed for the per diem, the worker is not required to provide supporting documents for that expense, unless the collective labor agreement expressly determines otherwise.
  • if the refundable expenses are variable (mileage, tolls, parking, public transport, etc.), then it will be acceptable and reasonable for the company, even if the collective labor agreement does not make any provision in this respect, to require support for the expense.

With this mechanism, the case law has determined that where the per diem is set at a fixed sum the expense is presumed to exist simply by reason of the traveling involved whereas, if the expense concerned is variable, the worker is indeed required to provide documents supporting it.

Jesus Tejado

Garrigues Labor and Employment Law Department