One of the hot topics in the employment arena is the right of workers to request adaptations to their working hours, as introduced by Royal Decree-Law 6/2019, of March 1, 2019, on urgent measures to guarantee equality.
This right, which is set out in article 34.8 of the Workers’ Statute and is starting to be known by many as “à la carte working hours”, can lead to significant and different types of changes in an employee’s working hours. Indeed, it may affect the length, the distribution and even the manner in which working hours are completed, including the possibility of doing so remotely.
This legislative development seems to have split the opinion of the social actors and the labor lawyers, leading them to dig in their heels. While some consider that it is a positive measure that will foster equality and balance between personal, family and work life, others warn that it will be a clear blow to companies’ competitiveness and will increase costs.
Given this polarization, it is worth asking whether the right to adapt working hours is, without exceptions, the nemesis (or archenemy) of corporate competitiveness. In other words, are we really dealing with totally antagonistic and irreconcilable interests that necessarily lead to a sharp increase in companies’ costs or unrest between companies and workers?
The rule provides that through collective bargaining or, failing that, through individual negotiation with the worker over a maximum period of thirty days, an attempt must be made to reach an agreement on how the right will be exercised, and that only in the event of a disagreement will it be settled by the labor courts. As for the reference to bargaining/negotiation, rather than being automatically seen as a threat, it could be seen as an opportunity for the company and the worker to reach an agreement that benefits both parties.
Of course, this assumes reasonableness and proportionality given that, leaving aside extreme cases in which the parties’ positions are unreasonable and disproportionate, or in which due to the type of activity or simply for organizational reasons it is not objectively feasible to accommodate the worker’s request, there may also be (or it may be possible to find) a middle ground that satisfies both parties. On the one hand, it will improve employees’ satisfaction levels, which are frequently no longer influenced by financial considerations alone and, on the other, the company will gain in productivity and efficiency.
And, once in while, and seeing as how this year marks the 40th anniversary of the Monty Python classic, we would do well to remember, as Brian sang from the hill of Calvary, to “always look on the bright side of life” or at least try to.
Garrigues Employment and Labor Department