New Ways of Working

Explore and keep track of key legal and compliance considerations for multinational employers as new ways of working become increasingly embedded as the pandemic begins to recede. Learn more about the response taken in specific countries or build your own report to compare approaches taken around the world.

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01. Has the government introduced any laws and/or issued guidelines around remote-working arrangements? If so, what categories of worker do the laws and/or guidelines apply to – do they extend to “gig” workers and other independent contractors?

01. Has the government introduced any laws and/or issued guidelines around remote-working arrangements? If so, what categories of worker do the laws and/or guidelines apply to – do they extend to “gig” workers and other independent contractors?

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Austria

  • at Littler
  • at Littler
  • at Littler

First, it should be noted that in the Austrian legal system a distinction must be made between remote working and working in a home office. While remote working regularly includes any work without a fixed workplace (eg, also in cafés and public premises) the work in a home office is limited to an employee's place of residence or at least that of one's partner. Only working in a home office is substantially regulated by law, while remote working can still be agreed largely without formalities and is "only" subject to general labour law norms.

The most important government measure in this sector is the Home Office Act, which came into force on 1 April 2021 in response to the covid-19 crisis and the corresponding working conditions. The Home Office Act adapts various existing laws and tightens the legal framework for home office employment. The relevant provisions include a legal definition of a home office, its direct tax implications, and fundamental legal requirements for working in a home office, such as the requirement of a written agreement between employer and employee. Therefore, a home office can neither be imposed unilaterally nor is there a legal entitlement at a statutory level for any worker to work from home.

The relevant legal provisions on home offices cover all genuine employment relationships that are based on a private law contract. Those are essentially characterised by the personal and economic dependence of the worker. It can be deduced from this definition that independent contractors are not covered by those provisions. They are essentially free to determine working hours and places and only owe their contractual partner the production of a result. Therefore, they can regularly decide independently where they choose to work.

From an Austrian point of view, "gig workers" are also ordinary employment relationships under social security law, which is why the above also applies to them.

Last updated on 21/09/2021

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Spain

  • at Cuatrecasas
  • at Cuatrecasas

Yes. The Spanish government has passed new laws on remote working. First, on 22 September 2020, it approved Royal Law-Decree 28/2020 on remote working, followed by the Spanish parliament passing Law 10/2021 on remote working, superseding it but keeping most of its provisions.

This law applies to any kind of labour relationship in which at least 30% of a worker’s working hours are at their home or wherever they decide. Therefore, there is no specific regulation on “gig” workers or independent contractors.

Additionally, the Spanish government passed a specific regulation in article 5 of Royal Law-Decree 8/2020, through which companies should encourage and prioritise remote work among their staff because of the covid-19 pandemic, as long as this is feasible for their business.

Last updated on 21/09/2021

02. Outline the key data protection risks associated with remote working in your jurisdiction.

02. Outline the key data protection risks associated with remote working in your jurisdiction.

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Austria

  • at Littler
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  • at Littler

The potential data protection risks associated with remote working are largely equivalent to those associated with working in a regular workplace, but are arguably even more prevalent.

A significant potential risk factor is the transfer of personal data if it is no longer securely stored on a company's servers. In addition, employers thereby transfer responsibility for the safekeeping and use of sensitive data to the worker. In doing so, employers have a significantly reduced ability to exert any influence. Nevertheless, companies are still generally regarded as being responsible for data protection within the meaning of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which creates a certain amount of friction.

It is also questionable whether a so-called privacy impact assessment must be carried out when working in a home office.

In principle, such an assessment must be conducted if data processing – especially when using new technologies – is likely to result in a high risk to the rights and freedoms of natural persons due to the nature, scope, circumstances, and purposes of the processing.

At present, it cannot be assumed that the threshold for the use of new technologies has already been exceeded in the context of remote working. In individual cases, however, it could amount to an "organisational solution" within the meaning of the GDPR, which also triggers the obligation of a privacy impact assessment by the data controller.

Insecure data connections that might not be constantly checked and maintained should also be considered. Another potential risk arises from it being easier for third parties to obtain access to sensitive data, whether it be persons in the same household or others at public places of work.

From a legal perspective, compliance with data security can also be adequately ensured for remote work, considering the GDPR and the corresponding national legal basis (Austrian Data Protection Act).

In home-office agreements, however, it is advisable to make further reference to data protection aspects. Here, companies should refer to the secure and data protection-compliant transport of sensitive hardware. Additionally, companies should take technical and organisational measures to ensure data security (eg, use of VPN, two-factor authentication with mobile phones, encryption of USB sticks, provision of a LAN network, requirements for secure storage of access data).

Last updated on 21/09/2021

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Spain

  • at Cuatrecasas
  • at Cuatrecasas

Apart from the general personal data protection issues to be considered, there are two significant risks.

First, under article 17 of Law 10/2021, any digital program or software to monitor remote workers must grant employees privacy and protection of personal data according to the Organic Law on Personal Data Protection and Digital Rights Guarantees. In particular:

  • an employer’s access to the digital technology provided to the remote worker must be limited to checking compliance with labour obligations and to guaranteeing the integrity of the devices;
  • employers must establish the terms of use of the digital devices, and the workers’ representatives must participate in drafting them;
  • employers must inform remote workers about the terms of use of the digital devices; and
  • regardless of the terms of use, an employer’s access to the digital means must be necessary for the employer to achieve a legal purpose, appropriate for such legal purpose and proportional to achieve such legal purpose. Based on this, the employer should implement the least invasive way of monitoring remote workers’ activity to achieve the legal purpose the employer is pursuing.

Any measure to monitor employees’ activity should meet these requirements; otherwise, an employer’s decision arising from such monitoring could be deemed unfair, and there could be a breach of the employee’s privacy, which could lead to a damages claim and an administrative fine.

Second, employers must comply with the principles of personal data processing under article 5 of the GDPR, especially purpose limitation and data minimisation, which means that the personal data the employer can process should be only what is the minimum necessary data for the performance of the labour contract or compliance with their legal obligations. Therefore, employers are not entitled to, for instance, force remote workers to turn on their cameras during working hours.

Third, despite remote working, employers must comply with health and safety obligations, which could lead to the employer or its health and safety services provider visiting an employee’s home to evaluate its risks. In that case, employers should issue a report justifying the visit and provide it to the remote worker and the health and safety workers’ representatives in advance. Additionally, to access any remote worker’s home, the employer must first obtain their consent.

If they do not give their consent, measures on health and safety should be based only on the information provided by the remote workers.

Last updated on 21/09/2021

03. What are the limits on employer monitoring of worker activity in the context of a remote-working arrangement and what other factors should employers bear in mind when monitoring worker activity remotely?

03. What are the limits on employer monitoring of worker activity in the context of a remote-working arrangement and what other factors should employers bear in mind when monitoring worker activity remotely?

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Austria

  • at Littler
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  • at Littler

Relevant here are first the restrictions on the employer's control of working time. Both the Working Time Act and the Rest Periods Act also apply to remote work and to work in a home office. However, section 26 paragraph 3 of the Working Time Act provides that in the case of work that is predominantly carried out in the home, only records of the duration (not the specific beginning and end) of the working time are to be kept. If the working hours are fixed, only deviations must be recorded.

The practical possibilities of monitoring work performance are manifold due to the IT tools that are now available (eg, log files, webcam). In contrast, in Austrian labour law, the employer's ability to control is subject to important restrictions. Control measures that affect human dignity require either the consent of the works council or – if such a council does not exist – the consent of the respective worker. Both attendance and performance or productivity controls can be relevant here. According to case law, the question of whether human dignity is affected must be assessed on a case-by-case basis. In addition to the employer's interest in monitoring, the way the monitoring is carried out is also decisive, so that the possibility of constant electronic monitoring (for example, by controlling keystrokes or screen duplication) certainly affects human dignity[1].

However, it is of course lawful to check the availability of employees during working hours.


[1] Huger in Huger (Hrsg), Home Office und mobiles Arbeiten [2021] Rechtliche Rahmenbedingungen.

Last updated on 21/09/2021

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Spain

  • at Cuatrecasas
  • at Cuatrecasas

In general terms, there are no substantial differences between remote and on-site workers.

Any digital program or software to monitor workers must guarantee their privacy and the protection of their personal data under the Organic Law on Personal Data Protection and Digital Rights Guarantees.

Article 17.2 of the Law on Remote Working provides that the employer cannot force employees to install programs or apps on their private devices, or to use their private devices for work.

Regarding workers who travel regularly to carry out their duties, under article 90 of the Organic Law on Personal Data Protection and Digital Rights Guarantees, any geolocation system must comply with the requirements mentioned above (ie, be necessary, appropriate and proportional), and employers must inform the workers and their legal representatives specifically, clearly and unambiguously of the existence and characteristics of such systems in advance. Besides, the employer must inform them that they may exercise their rights to access, rectification, erasure and restriction of the processing of data.

Collective bargaining agreements may provide additional information on this topic.

Last updated on 21/09/2021

04. Are employers required to provide work equipment (for example, computers and other digital devices) or to pay for or reimburse employees for costs associated with remote working (for example, internet and electricity costs)?

04. Are employers required to provide work equipment (for example, computers and other digital devices) or to pay for or reimburse employees for costs associated with remote working (for example, internet and electricity costs)?

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Austria

  • at Littler
  • at Littler
  • at Littler

The basic obligation of employers to reimburse employees for expenses incurred on behalf of employers already results from general private law for all forms of remote working (more precisely: section 1014 of the General Civil Code).

However, the reimbursement of costs is more precisely defined for work in a home office. Employers are, in principle, obliged by law to provide home workers with the necessary digital work equipment. If an arrangement has been made by works agreement or individual agreement whereby the employee provides digital work equipment, which includes the necessary data connection, the employer shall pay the reasonable and necessary reimbursement of costs. To this extent, the employer is obliged by law to pay compensation.

This expense is to be borne by the employer, who may, however, pay a so-called home office allowance tax-free to the employee up to a limit of €300 and thereby, or by paying an appropriate lower amount, compensate the employee for expenses, including those resulting from increased internet or electricity consumption.

Last updated on 21/09/2021

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Spain

  • at Cuatrecasas
  • at Cuatrecasas

Under article 11 of the Law on Remote Working, employers must provide remote workers with the necessary means, tools and maintenance to provide their services remotely. Employers must also offer remote workers with support services, if technical problems arise. The means and tools employers provide workers with should be listed in the remote-work agreement.

If parties agree on an employee using his or her private means for labour purposes, the employer should compensate that worker.

Employers should also compensate or reimburse remote workers for expenses associated with remote working, such as internet, electricity, water or gas bills. These expenses and how to reimburse them should be listed on the contract. Collective bargaining agreements may determine the expenses and the amounts to compensate.

Last updated on 21/09/2021

05. What potential issues and risks arise for employers in the context of cross-border remote-working arrangements?

05. What potential issues and risks arise for employers in the context of cross-border remote-working arrangements?

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Austria

  • at Littler
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  • at Littler

Labour Law:

The essential issue regarding labour law is the question of which labour law should apply. Often, employers will want to apply a uniform labour law to all employees. However, this becomes impossible if in cross-border remote-working arrangements the labour law of the state of residence provides certain overriding mandatory rules and minimum standards (eg, in wage dumping and working time). Additionally, it may prove difficult for employers to keep track of the ever-changing legal landscape in various jurisdictions. Allowing for cross-border remote-working arrangements will oftentimes lead either to higher staffing requirements in the in-house legal department or increased recourse to local external partners. Both are associated with costs. There is also the question of work permits, depending on the applicable local law. 

Social Security Law:
 

While temporary covid-related work at home in other EU or EEA countries (and Switzerland) should not lead to any change in social security responsibilities, the corresponding provision in Austria was limited until 31 December 2021 and restricted to pandemic-related work at home. According to the information provided by the Austrian social insurance institution, covid-related work at home should not have any social insurance and tax law implications. Apart from an exceptional situation such as this, for workers who are working in more than one member state, working or earning more than 25% of the working time or remuneration in the country of residence leads to a change of the applicable social security regulations there. This is naturally associated with (sometimes) considerable administrative effort. The corresponding declarations must be made, and the payment of contributions must be ensured.

From the employer’s point of view, especially regarding accident insurance protection, it is important to note that the exact location of the remote workplace must be specified individually.

While insurance coverage in the home office is expressly clarified, the details concerning remote work in general are still controversial. These uncertainties are exacerbated in cross-border situations.

Tax Law:

If remote work is carried out across borders, this can have (potentially negative) effects on taxation. First, it must be considered that a domestic employer may employ workers who carry out their work both domestically and, for example, in a home office abroad. This may result in the establishment of a foreign permanent establishment through that home office. This would lead to a limited tax liability for the domestic employer abroad. A limited tax liability may also be accompanied by the obligation to deduct income tax via PAYE (pay as you earn). Since national legislation must be considered, this can lead to a considerable administrative effort.

In general, employees should not stay abroad for more than 183 days per year as otherwise they will be taxed in the country in which they are active. Finally, it must be considered whether there are taxation agreements between the countries and how these are structured.

Last updated on 31/01/2022

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Spain

  • at Cuatrecasas
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Labour law

Under article 8 of Regulation (EC) 593/2008 on the law applicable to contractual obligations, employment contracts should be governed by the law chosen by the parties, but this choice cannot deprive employees of any inalienable protections under the law of the country from which they habitually carry out their work. This, in practice, means that remote-working contracts, regardless of their content, are governed by the law of the country from which the remote workers mostly work.

Social security law

Under article 11 of Regulation (EC) 883/2004 on coordinating social security systems (Regulation 883/2004), remote workers will be subject to the social security regulations of the country where they provide their services.

However, under article 12 of Regulation 883/2004, if remote workers are posted by their current employer to another EU member state to perform work on that employer’s behalf, they should continue to be subject to the legislation of their member state of origin, provided that the anticipated duration of such work does not exceed 24 months, and that they are not sent to replace another posted person.

If the remote workers come from a country outside the EU, the bilateral agreement on social security between Spain and that third country, if any, should apply.

Breaching this obligation may result in the Spanish social security authorities claiming any unpaid contributions from the employer (around 30% of the monthly salary, capped at €4,070 per month) for the past four years, plus a 20% surcharge and interest. Additionally, the employer may face administrative fines ranging from €6,250 to €10,000 per employee (as of 1 October 2021, from €3,750 to €12,000 per employee) for failure to register, and ranging from 50% to 150% of unpaid social security contributions, plus a 20% surcharge and interest, for the past four years for defaulting on social security contributions.

Tax law

Remote workers could trigger a Spanish permanent establishment for the foreign employer, if one or more of them can (legally or de facto) enter into legally binding contracts on behalf of the employer (ie, if the employee becomes a dependent agent). A permanent establishment would trigger Spanish corporate income tax liability for the employer on the annual profits attributable to that permanent establishment.

Additionally, depending on the remote worker’s country of tax residence, the tax withholdings the company must make may significantly differ, so workers could receive a net amount higher or lower than they expected. But if the company makes lower tax withholdings than legally required, it may face administrative fines and could be obliged to pay any pending tax withholdings.

Last updated on 21/09/2021

06. Do employers have any scope to reduce the salaries and/or benefits of employees who work remotely?

06. Do employers have any scope to reduce the salaries and/or benefits of employees who work remotely?

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Austria

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  • at Littler

Employers cannot unilaterally reduce employees' salaries because of remote work. A salary reduction is only possible either by mutual agreement or through a dismissal, with the option of re-employment on altered conditions.

Regarding benefits, we believe that a distinction must be made according to whether they were granted with working on office premises in mind and whether the employer has reserved a right to revoke them. In the latter case, employers may reduce or revoke benefits unilaterally. In addition, it can also be argued that, for example, meal vouchers for the company canteen are no longer issued and are not reimbursed. Such and other “social benefits by the company” can be limited to use at the company’s workplace.

Last updated on 21/09/2021

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Spain

  • at Cuatrecasas
  • at Cuatrecasas

Article 4 of the Law on Remote Working provides equal rights for remote and on-site workers, so they receive equal pay and are entitled to the same schedule, breaks and work-life balance, and they are expressly included in equality plans and harassment prevention protocols.

Last updated on 21/09/2021

08. Can employers require or mandate that their workers receive a covid-19 vaccination? If so, what options does an employer have in the event an employee refuses to receive a covid-19 vaccination?

08. Can employers require or mandate that their workers receive a covid-19 vaccination? If so, what options does an employer have in the event an employee refuses to receive a covid-19 vaccination?

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Austria

  • at Littler
  • at Littler
  • at Littler

Vaccination is not compulsory at present (but see below and question 10). Employers will not be able to force workers to have a covid-19 vaccination, as long as no corresponding legal basis has been established. However, the legal situation of workers who refuse vaccination has not yet been fully clarified.

Employers might struggle to comply with their duty of care if workers remain unvaccinated. Co-workers, but also customers, would be exposed to a greater risk of infection if workers are unwilling to get vaccinated. Moreover, the set-up of additional protective measures might lead to a considerable increase in costs the employer is unwilling to bear.

Therefore, the employer has two options:                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      A transfer of the worker to another workplace with a reduced risk of infection (no contact with customers or co-workers) should be considered first. If the employment contract does not provide for a transfer of workers and the worker refuses to change his or her workplace, the employer could give notice of dismissal with the option of reemployment on altered conditions. Here, for example, a change in working conditions or a change in the place of work would constitute an adequate rearrangement.

However, a dismissal or a dismissal with the option of reemployment on altered terms may not be conditional on vaccination. Yet, if there is no such opportunity for employment, the worker might be legally dismissed as he or she has nowhere to work. The question here too is if the worker can provide other evidence to meet the requirement of a reduced incidence of infection. Besides vaccination, a negative test result or a confirmation of a Covid-19 recovery will serve this purpose.

On 19 November 2021, the government announced that Austria will be the first European country to introduce compulsory vaccination against covid for all people from February 2022. The draft law is in the legislative process. After the National Assembly (one part of the legislative body) gave its approval, the draft will now also be voted on in the Federal Council (the second body). Exceptions to the general obligation to vaccinate will only be possible for medical reasons. For example, religious reasons are not considered according to the draft law. Furthermore, compliance with the vaccination order is "only" ensured by imposing administrative fines for non-compliance.

By creating a corresponding legal basis for a general obligation to vaccinate, it is expected that the employer will be allowed to take action against employees who refuse vaccination. It is conceivable, for example, that the employment relationship could be terminated because the employee cannot be employed due to lack of vaccination and is therefore not ready for work. Nevertheless, the current draft does not bring any legal changes to the workplace for the time being. Here, the 3-G rule continues to apply.

Last updated on 31/01/2022

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Spain

  • at Cuatrecasas
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No, they cannot require it. Indeed, employers are not even permitted to ask their employees whether they are vaccinated.

This is personal health data, which is a special category of personal data under article 9 of the GDPR, and its processing is subject to stricter requirements than ordinary personal data.

As such information is not necessary for carrying out the employee’s obligations under the employment contract, and there is no legal authorisation for employers to process such data, employers cannot ask for this information and, if employees voluntarily provide it, employers cannot implement any measure for employees based on it. If employers implement any such measure, it could be deemed null, as it could be seen as a retaliation against the right to refuse vaccination.

Last updated on 21/09/2021

09. What are the risks to an employer making entry to the workplace conditional on an individual worker having received a covid-19 vaccination?

09. What are the risks to an employer making entry to the workplace conditional on an individual worker having received a covid-19 vaccination?

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Austria

  • at Littler
  • at Littler
  • at Littler

In exercising his domiciliary rights, it is up to the employer or entrepreneur to decide which persons he allows to access company premises. Therefore, the employer must also be allowed to demand appropriate proof of vaccination. This action is also justified if vaccination reduces the risk of infection with covid-19 for other workers.

However, a separate question to ask is whether an unvaccinated employee is entitled to remuneration during a lockout. This assessment is to be made on a case-by-case basis. Since there is no legal basis for compulsory vaccination at present, a balance of interests must be made here. Many aspects play a role when balancing the interests of the employer and individual workers. For example, if there is a home-office agreement with a white-collar worker, the employer may link the return to work to changed conditions and therefore to proof of a covid-19 vaccination. In the case of blue-collar workers (or white-collar workers without a home-office agreement), however, a lockout with retention of salary will not be justifiable. The legislature currently provides three options to prove that there is no infection. A negative test result, proof of vaccination and a confirmation of a covid-19 recovery (3-G proof) are suitable ways of providing evidence here. Employers are not entitled to unilaterally impose stricter conditions without objective justification and will need to accept all three options. Furthermore, one must also consider the individual situation of the worker. Some workers are simply unable to have vaccinations for health reasons. Therefore, if employers opened their business only to vaccinated workers, they might also have to pay workers who have been locked out, without receiving any work performance.

This could change with the introduction of compulsory vaccination. First, the general vaccination obligation will drastically shift a possible balance of interests. Once compulsory vaccination comes into force, continued payment of wages for unvaccinated employees no longer seems necessary in most cases. However, there will be exceptions, especially for persons who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons. In addition, workers will continue to be able to invoke the 3-G rule for the time being – until a corresponding change is made. If this regulation is not adapted, it will continue to be possible to rely on the alternatives to vaccination (testing, recovery).

Last updated on 31/01/2022

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Spain

  • at Cuatrecasas
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The employer may face administrative fines for breaching obligations on labour law and personal data:

  • by hiring only vaccinated individuals, the employer’s decision could be considered discrimination against individuals who decide not to get the vaccine; and
  • by asking job applicants whether they are vaccinated, the employer could breach the regulations on personal data. As this is data concerning health, it is a special category of personal data under the GDPR, and its processing is prohibited except in specific cases, which would not apply in this case.

Any of these actions is a very serious breach, leading to labour-related administrative fines ranging from €6,251 to €187,515 (as of 1 October 2021, from €7,501 to €225,018). Additionally, the employer may face administrative fines for breaching the GDPR.

Last updated on 21/09/2021

10. Are there some workplaces or specific industries or sectors in which the government has required that employers make access to the workplace conditional on individuals having received a Covid-19 vaccination?

10. Are there some workplaces or specific industries or sectors in which the government has required that employers make access to the workplace conditional on individuals having received a Covid-19 vaccination?

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Austria

  • at Littler
  • at Littler
  • at Littler

In principle, there is already the legal possibility to impose vaccinations for certain professions in the health sector. However, this option has not been exercised yet. There is no legal basis for compulsory vaccination in most sectors.

Workers may choose from three options (3-G rule) when they want to enter their employer’s premises. As of now, there is no regulation stipulating an entry requirement to the workplace for vaccinated workers. However, employers may only tighten access restrictions in substantiated cases. Individuals who are not employees may be subject to stricter conditions (proof of vaccination) as a result of the employer’s right of domicile.

Last updated on 31/01/2022

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Spain

  • at Cuatrecasas
  • at Cuatrecasas

No, there are not.

Last updated on 21/09/2021

11. What are the key privacy considerations employers face in relation to ascertaining and processing employee medical and vaccination information?

11. What are the key privacy considerations employers face in relation to ascertaining and processing employee medical and vaccination information?

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Austria

  • at Littler
  • at Littler
  • at Littler

It is the opinion of the data protection authority that a targeted question about an employee’s vaccination status is not covered by the legal framework, as two other equivalent methods are currently provided to prove a low epidemiological risk at the workplace (3-G rule).

In practice, however, it will be possible for employers to leave it up to employees to disclose their vaccination status of their own accord.

Employers are currently only allowed to randomly check whether workers have been vaccinated, have recovered from COVID-19 or have been tested. The underlying regulation does not create a legal basis for maintaining data and prohibits the unilateral retention of personal data. Best practice has been to leave it up to employees to actively disclose their status to employers.

There are no specific record-keeping requirements. Due to the law, personal data may not be maintained and employees must actively disclose their status and consent to its retention. Personal data may only be stored for as long as it is necessary. Furthermore, the processing of personal data must always be limited to the necessary extent (data minimisation). The general obligations of the GDPR must also be complied with.

Last updated on 31/01/2022

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Spain

  • at Cuatrecasas
  • at Cuatrecasas

As mentioned, any information concerning health is a special category of personal data, whose processing is limited under specific circumstances.

The law does not entitle employers to ask employees whether they are vaccinated. Processing personal health data must comply with article 22 of Law 31/1995, on occupational risk prevention, which means that:

  • in general terms, employers cannot use personal data on employees’ health for discriminatory purposes or to the detriment of any employees;
  • access to employees’ personal medical information will be limited to medical personnel and health authorities that monitor the health of workers, and providing such information to an employer or other personnel without the express consent of the worker is prohibited; but
  • employers and those responsible for health and safety will be informed of the conclusions of any check-ups to determine the workers’ ability to perform their job or the need to introduce or improve protection and prevention measures, so that they can properly carry out their preventive functions.

Based on this and the fact that there are no different regulations on covid-19 prevention based on employee vaccination, employers do not have access to vaccination information unless employees freely give their consent.

Last updated on 21/09/2021

12. What are the key health and safety considerations for employers in respect of remote workers?

12. What are the key health and safety considerations for employers in respect of remote workers?

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Austria

  • at Littler
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  • at Littler

Any regulations concerning the general protection of workers apply to teleworkers as well. Only workplace-related regulations do not apply here. Thus, an employer's duty of care does not end at the worker’s front door when the worker performs their work from home. In Austria, several large companies produce videos for their workers showing the ideal design of a teleworking workplace. They use these videos to support their workers to set up their teleworking workplace properly. In some cases, workers are even offered the opportunity to film their workplace and send the video to the employer. Experts then assess whether the workplace meets occupational health and safety requirements.

Last updated on 21/09/2021

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Spain

  • at Cuatrecasas
  • at Cuatrecasas

Articles 15 and 16 of the Law on Remote Working provide that remote workers are entitled to appropriate health and safety conditions in the workplace, and that risk assessment and prevention planning should consider the specific risks of remote working, in particular, psychosocial, ergonomic and organisational factors.

The Law on Remote Working refers especially to labour conditions such as working-time distribution, employee availability, rest time and the right to disconnect to be considered for occupational risks purposes.

Indeed, article 18 of that Law provides that remote workers are entitled to digital disconnection outside their working hours, which means that the employer must have in place an internal policy on the right to disconnect, and training and awareness action on the reasonable use of technological tools to prevent computer fatigue. Before implementing this internal policy, employers must consult with workers’ representatives.

Collective bargaining agreements may further develop this right.

Last updated on 21/09/2021

13. How has the pandemic impacted employers’ obligations vis-à-vis worker health and safety beyond the physical workplace?

13. How has the pandemic impacted employers’ obligations vis-à-vis worker health and safety beyond the physical workplace?

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Austria

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Employers' duty of care requires supervision of employees in terms of occupational health and safety and work ergonomics, even during teleworking. This was hardly dealt with before covid.

Last updated on 21/09/2021

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Spain

  • at Cuatrecasas
  • at Cuatrecasas

During the pandemic, employers’ obligations on health and safety were limited to issues referred to in question 7. Employers also must inform health authorities in the event of covid-19 positives among their staff.

Additionally, article 5 of Royal Law-Decree 8/2020 provides that the risk assessment obligation towards remote workers due to the pandemic would be met through employees’ voluntary self-assessment.

Last updated on 21/09/2021

14. Do employer health and safety obligations differ between mobile workers and workers based primarily at home?

14. Do employer health and safety obligations differ between mobile workers and workers based primarily at home?

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Austria

  • at Littler
  • at Littler
  • at Littler

No. Regarding employers’ obligations on health and safety measures, the same rules apply to mobile workers and workers based primarily at home.

Last updated on 21/09/2021

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Spain

  • at Cuatrecasas
  • at Cuatrecasas

Yes. Firstly, mobile workers do not necessarily fall within the remote-work regulations.

Under Spanish law, remote workers are those who regularly provide their services from home or from wherever they freely decide, as long as that involves at least 30% of their working hours within a three-month period.

On the other hand, mobile workers are those who regularly provide their services from different places, depending on the company’s clients or needs.

Since remote workers mostly work from home, employers’ health and safety obligations should focus on their workspace.

For mobile workers, however, employers’ health and safety obligations should focus on additional circumstances, such as driving or using a mobile phone while working.

Therefore, there is a difference considering the way they provide their services.

Last updated on 21/09/2021

15. To what extent are employers responsible for the mental health and wellbeing of workers who are working remotely?

15. To what extent are employers responsible for the mental health and wellbeing of workers who are working remotely?

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Austria

  • at Littler
  • at Littler
  • at Littler

An employer's duty of care also includes looking after the mental health and well-being of employees who work from home. However, their duties are of course limited only to those aspects that arise from the work performance itself (hence no private factors). However, neither employers nor representatives of the labour inspectorate may enter a worker’s home. Therefore, employers are unable to examine working conditions during teleworking. Nevertheless, employers are still expected to ask their workers about their state of health and offer support. As mentioned above, some employers offer their employees creative solutions. However, the prerequisite is always that employees voluntarily cooperate with the measures if his or her home is affected.

Last updated on 21/09/2021

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Spain

  • at Cuatrecasas
  • at Cuatrecasas

Employers may be responsible for mental health and wellbeing, and this is an issue on which the Labour Inspectorate’s focus is increasing considerably.

This responsibility would mainly depend on the actions the employer takes (and can prove), in particular, implementing a risk-assessment and prevention activity plan (including information and training sessions) and certain policies and their implementation.

In other words, companies should act proactively to prevent situations that may harm employees’ mental health.

If employers can prove they have complied with these obligations, the risk of being responsible for remote workers’ mental health and wellbeing decreases significantly.

Last updated on 21/09/2021

17. To what extent have employers been able to make changes to their organisations during the pandemic, including by making redundancies and/or reducing wages and employee benefits?

17. To what extent have employers been able to make changes to their organisations during the pandemic, including by making redundancies and/or reducing wages and employee benefits?

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Austria

  • at Littler
  • at Littler
  • at Littler

Regarding changes in the organisational structure itself, large employers, in particular, are relying heavily on home offices and are already planning for a time after the pandemic. Desk-sharing models are increasing0 being considered and actively implemented. This is accompanied by a (partial) return of leased property. In the internal organisation, there is a noticeable departure from rigid hierarchies and a shift towards increased network thinking, in which decision-making processes take place jointly using digital work equipment.

The government and legislature have been very careful to minimise layoffs as much as possible and at least to counteract pandemic-related redundancies. This was achieved, on the one hand, through direct support of the economy in the form of aid packages (compensation for loss of sales, subsidies for monthly fixed costs, etc) and, on the other hand, through the widespread use of short-time work, which was largely financed through state aid. The short-time work subsidy is accompanied by a retention obligation placed on employers, so that there have been relatively few redundancies during the pandemic so far, as the companies have accepted this aid well.

 
Last updated on 21/09/2021

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Spain

  • at Cuatrecasas
  • at Cuatrecasas

Since March 2020, under article 2 Royal Law-Decree 9/2020, employers cannot dismiss employees because of the covid-19 situation, and it is assumed that any dismissal since then is due to the pandemic. This means that employers must have strong reasons to justify dismissals to avoid them being somehow associated with covid-19. This prohibition is still in force.

The law does not specify whether breaching this prohibition should lead to the dismissal being deemed null or unfair. This has resulted in dissimilar high court resolutions: on the one hand, some have deemed dismissals null (forcing the employer to reinstate the worker and pay accrued salaries since the dismissal); and, on the other hand, some resolutions have deemed dismissals unfair (the employer can choose to pay severance for unfair dismissal or reinstate the employee and pay the salaries accrued since the dismissal). Until the Supreme Court rules on this matter, the consequences of breaching this prohibition are not clear.

Unlike dismissals, no other regulations specifically limit or prevent employers from changing employees’ labour conditions due to covid-19. Therefore, to implement any changes, employers should follow the ordinary procedure, which consists of justifying the change on business-related grounds and, if the decision affects at least 10 employees in companies employing less than 100 people; 10% of employees in companies employing between 100 and 300 people; or 30 employees in companies employing more than 300 people, then they must schedule a 15-day negotiation period with the workers’ representatives, although it is not mandatory to reach an agreement.

Most companies, however, have not made changes to their staff’s labour conditions, except for contract suspensions or recoverable paid leave.

Additionally, the government has passed several regulations since March 2020 (eg, Royal Law-Decrees 8/2020, 24/2020, 30/2020, 2/2021 and 11/2021) to provide specific and easier temporary contract suspensions for force majeure due to covid. These new regulations have mainly eased the ordinary procedure on temporary contract suspensions, and they have also allowed certain companies to obtain social security exemptions or reductions, subject to their commitment to not dismiss any employees whose contracts were suspended for six months after they resume work.

The Spanish government also passed Royal Law-Decree 10/2020, entitling certain employees to a recoverable paid leave between 30 March and 9 April 2020, which was the worst period of the pandemic. Workers were exempt from working without any impact on their salary, but they had to make up that time between the end of the state of alert and the end of the year.

Last updated on 21/09/2021

18. What actions, if any, have unions or other worker associations taken to protect the entitlements and rights of remote workers?

18. What actions, if any, have unions or other worker associations taken to protect the entitlements and rights of remote workers?

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Austria

  • at Littler
  • at Littler
  • at Littler

Austria benefits from its system of "social partnership", which is characterised by cooperation between employers' and employees' interest groups and with the government. Due to long negotiations between the social partners in the run-up to the Home Office Act, workers’ rights were safeguarded before the amendment was implemented.

Last updated on 21/09/2021

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Spain

  • at Cuatrecasas
  • at Cuatrecasas

Article 19 of the Law on Remote Working provides that there should be no difference between remote and on-site workers regarding collective and representative rights.

Employers must provide workers’ representatives with the required elements to properly carry out their activities, including access to communications and email addresses and a digital bulletin board.

They must ensure that there are no communication hurdles between remote workers and their legal representatives and that remote workers can effectively participate in activities organised by their legal representatives, especially exercising their right to vote in the workers’ representatives on-site elections.

Apart from this, there are no differences in union rights due to employees working remotely. They are entitled to be informed or consulted, depending on the matter, before implementing decisions to check that the employer is complying with the applicable labour regulations.

In particular, employers must provide the works council with a copy of remote-work agreements and notify them of any change to such contracts.

Employers must also inform the works council and remote workers about on-site vacancies, as remote workers have priority over external candidates when vacancies arise.

The works council can challenge before the labour inspectorate or the courts any company decision that breaches labour regulations, regardless of whether it affects remote workers or not.

Last updated on 21/09/2021

19. Are employers required to consult with, or otherwise involve, the relevant union when introducing a remote-working arrangement? If so, how much influence does the union and/or works council have to alter the working arrangement (for example, to ensure workers’ health and safety is protected during any period of remote work)?

19. Are employers required to consult with, or otherwise involve, the relevant union when introducing a remote-working arrangement? If so, how much influence does the union and/or works council have to alter the working arrangement (for example, to ensure workers’ health and safety is protected during any period of remote work)?

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Austria

  • at Littler
  • at Littler
  • at Littler

Especially regarding home office work, the Austrian legislature has clarified that such work requires an agreement between employer and employee.  At the same time, however, the legal possibility was established to determine framework conditions under which home working can take place within a company through a works agreement. At this level, employee representatives (the works council) can therefore help to shape the implementation of remote working. However, the conclusion of such a works agreement is voluntary and cannot be enforced. Nevertheless, employers should inform the works council before introducing home working, as the works council has a general right to information, which in our opinion also includes the introduction of remote working.

In addition, various collective agreements for entire industries also lay down framework conditions for teleworking, although their implementation also requires an agreement between employer and employee.

Employee protection in the context of mobile working is already guaranteed by the fact that relevant worker protection laws also apply to remote work in their essential provisions. In practice, works agreements regularly provide for employers to undertake a workplace evaluation to ensure the health and safety of its employees.

Last updated on 21/09/2021

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Spain

  • at Cuatrecasas
  • at Cuatrecasas

As mentioned before, employers must provide the works council with a copy of the remote-work agreements and notify them of any change to such contracts. They are only entitled to share their opinions on the contract and the labour conditions with the employer. But the works council cannot change a remote-working agreement, unless they challenge the decision and a court grants it.

Last updated on 21/09/2021