‘Spanish firms have to take ethics seriously’

What do you do when personal circumstances bring you to corruption-hit Spain? Set up a business ethics consultancy of course. At least that’s what this Madrid-based Brit decided to do.

'Spanish firms have to take ethics seriously'
Impact on Integrity Managing Director Murray Grainger with Andrea Bonime-Blanc, CEO and Founder of GEC Risk Advisory LLC.

"You are right in the sweet spot."

That’s what people said to ethics and compliance expert Murray Grainger when he first moved to Spain.

After years of legal and compliance experience in London and Sydney, Grainger then went on to work as an in-house lawyer for French aviation giant Airbus. But Grainger's interest in ethics was sparked while he was studying for a global executive MBA at Spain’s IESE business school — an interest that eventually saw him being asked to become head of the French firm's ethics and compliance programme.

Then he moved to Madrid for personal reasons and found a “deeply conservative” business culture which was far too tolerant of corruption and unethical practices.

"The reality is that Spaniards won’t change their way of doing business until a competitor is hit with a major international legal suit or executives are thrown into jail," Grainger told The Local.

"There just isn't the same culture of investigative journalism you find in some other countries, and while, for example, Spanish banks will get fined, you won’t see the individuals behind those illegal deals being identified and put in prison," he said.

"On the international curve, the US is ahead of Europe, and countries like Germany are ahead of Spain. But it does mean this county offers great challenges and opportunities."

Grainger's response to the Spanish situation was to set up Impact on Integrity, a compliance and ethics consultancy for businesses, which also provides training and translation services.

So far the response has been exciting. "Spain is now waking up to international best practice and there has been a legal awakening too, in terms of who is responsible for transgressions," he says.

Impact on Integrity also runs events like the Global Business Ethics Challenge taking place in Madrid on Tuesday. This event, conducted in both Spanish and English, sees participants working in teams of four as owners of a virtual company. Players have to work against the clock to deal with ethics problems. At the end of the 90-minute session they are rated on their profitability but also — critically — on their ethics and compliance performance.

"This is a safe and neutral environment for people to learn about ethics-based issues. People are not sitting in an office in Telefonica or Santander," Grainger says to highlight the benefits of this style of training.

The idea is that companies can then follow up with in-house training where they can look at ways to improve their business integrity strategy.

"But of course, the courses are also fun, and it’s a great way to network."

With ethics and compliance issues "it’s all about winning over the water cooler", says Grainger. "You need to be able to explain to people why being a better business citizen is important — and how it can be a positive value proposition.

"Corruption is really hurting Spain. It’s hurting the country’s reputation and it’s hurting foreign direct investment too. Too many Spaniards aren't taking the issue seriously either. They are not looking at people on the news and saying: 'They should go to jail'. They are shrugging their shoulders and saying, 'That’s how it is in Spain.'" 

"That’s what needs to change." 

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Do I have to take most of my annual leave in August in Spain?

Many Spanish companies still expect their workers to take their holidays at specific times of the year, primarily in August, right in the height of summer when many hotels are fully booked. So what are your rights, are you obliged to take your vacation in one particular month?

Do I have to take most of my annual leave in August in Spain?

While it’s your right as an employee to be able to take holiday days, do you have to take them when your company wants you to take them, or are you able to choose and have more flexibility?

Despite August being one of the hottest months in Spain and the one month of the year when many official companies and offices shut up shop, not everyone necessarily wants to take their break at the same time as everyone else.

Taking your holidays in August means less availability in hotels, overcrowding and more expensive transport and accommodation. If you don’t have children who are off from school during the summer months, then you may wish to take your vacation days at another time of the year, when it’s less busy and cheaper.

To answer the question it’s important to know the details about what the law says about how paid time off is taken, requested, imposed, or granted.

What laws or regulations dictate the rules about paid holiday time?

There are three different sets of rules and regulations, which are responsible for regulating the laws on vacation time in Spain. 

Firstly, you need to look at the Spanish Workers’ Statute, which includes rights, duties and obligations applicable to all salaried workers in Spain.

Secondly, you need to be aware of the collective sector and/or company agreements, which may dictate the rules for a particular industry for example.

Thirdly, you need to look at the contract, which you signed with your employer when you started working for them. This sets out your individual circumstances and the rules you must abide by.   

Workers Statute

As a general rule, all employees are subject to the Workers’ Statute. Holidays are part of this and are the subject of article 38. These conditions can never be contradicted by individual companies and are set as a guaranteed minimum. 

The minimum number of holidays in Spain is 30 calendar days per year. This equals two and a half days per month worked, in the case of temporary contracts. The statute states that vacations must be taken between January 1st and December 31st in separate periods, but one of them must be for at least two weeks. They are always paid and cannot be exchanged for financial compensation.

The period when you can take them is set by a common agreement between the employer and the worker, in accordance with what is established in the collective agreements on annual vacation planning. If there is disagreement, the social jurisdiction is resorted to.

At a minimum, the company must offer vacation days at least two months before the beginning of the holiday period, so that the employee has time to organise and book.   

When the planned time to take vacations coincides with a temporary disability, pregnancy, or childbirth, you have the right to enjoy the vacations at another time, even after the calendar year is over.

Collective agreements on vacations  

Your sector’s collective agreements may also help to answer this question. These aim to improve upon the basic and general rights that are included in the Workers’ Statute. They seek to adapt the rules to each type of industry or company. They could, for example, set out extra vacation days, which are greater than the standard 30 calendar days. 

You will need to find out what your specific sector or company’s collective agreement is. There is a possibility that your sector or company has mandatory summer vacations for the month of August and in that case, you can choose vacation dates, but only within this month.

Your work contract 

Lastly, you will need to consult your individual contract which you signed with the company when you were hired.  As well as the minimum conditions set out in the Workers’ Statute, your contract sets out your particular agreement with your employer in terms of holiday duration, the work calendar and other details.

Therefore, you should state in your contract whether you have to take your holidays during August, or if you’re free to take them at other times of the year.

If after consulting these three sets of regulations and there are still in doubt or in disagreement with your company about vacations, such as having to take them during the month of August, you should consult a lawyer specialising in labor law. They should be able to give you an answer specific to your situation.  

Can I appeal or disagree and what are the consequences? 

To appeal or express disagreement with what is proposed by the company, there is a period of 20 business days from when the vacation schedule is sent out, after which time you don’t have the right to show that you disagree.  

Companies can proceed to disciplinary dismissals due to abandonment of the job if you decide to take vacations that have not been granted or agreed upon with your employer. To avoid this type of problem, always make sure you have a record in writing of your request for vacation time and subsequent approval by the company.