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WORKING IN SPAIN

What do Spain’s labour laws say about working in extreme heat?

Is it legal to work in extremely hot conditions in Spain? Are there temperature limits? And does existing legislation apply to both indoor and outdoor work? Here's what workers in Spain need to know about their rights in this regard.

What do Spain's labour laws say about working in extreme heat?
What does Spanish law say about working in extreme heat? Photo: SPENCER PLATT / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez confirmed that Spain’s 10-day heatwave has left “more than 500 people dead”

One of these was a street cleaner, who died while working in Madrid on Friday July 15th as a result of heat stroke in temperatures over 40°C. 

Working in sweltering conditions is not only very difficult but can be dangerous too, so what are your rights as an employee and what does Spanish law say about working in extreme temperatures?

Working indoors

In indoor workspaces, where people are seated such as in an office, the law states that the temperature must be between 17°C and 27°C. 

And in those indoor workspaces where light work is carried out and people are moving around most of the time, it must be between 14°C and 25°C.

That means that legislation on working in extreme temperatures applies to both hot and cold weather.

The law also states that the humidity should be between 30 and 70 percent, except in places where there is a risk of static electricity, in which case the minimum should be 50 percent.

Spain’s Royal Decree 486/1997 annex V also states that there should be fresh water available in the workplace for all employees.

As the law was created in 1997, there are no such temperature limits set for remote workers or the self-employed (autónomos) who may not be able to keep their home office below 27°C if they don’t have air-conditioning.

READ ALSO: Ceiling fan vs air con in Spain: Which offers the better price-coolness ratio?

Working outdoors

It’s usually those who are working outdoors who are most affected by the heat, but surprisingly there aren’t any specific laws in Spain about working in extreme temperatures outside.

“There is no rule that establishes temperature limits to work outside,” confirms José de las Morenas, Secretary of Occupational Health for Spain’s General Union of Workers (UGT). 

However, several other experts, including Carmen Mancheño – Secretary of Occupational Health of one Spain’s main trade unions CCOO, agree that Spain’s Law on Prevention of Occupational Risks is enough to protect those working outdoors.  

Article 21 of this law states: “The worker will have the right to interrupt their activity and leave the workplace, if necessary, if they consider that said activity entails a serious and imminent risk to life or health”.  

Working in extremely hot conditions outdoors is definitely considered a health risk, meaning that workers are allowed to stop when they feel the heat is too much and it’s affecting their health. 

It’s worth keeping in mind though that lawyers say that this law is rarely resorted to and has to be completely justified.  

There may not be any set temperature limits for outdoor workers, but the law states that companies who are employing people to work outside must provide free equipment to protect them from the sun such as a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen.

They must also make sure there are places to rest in the shade, allow breaks when necessary and ensure employees are not working during the hottest part of the day.

On Tuesday July 19th, after the death of the street cleaner in Madrid, several city employers, as well as workers’ unions (CCOO, UGT and CGT), agreed upon a plan of action for outdoor workers during a heatwave. 

They have established three alert levels. Normal temperatures will indicate a green level, where companies must provide basic protection.

If temperatures rise above 36°C a yellow warning will be issued and shifts will change to the evening when it’s cooler.

Air-conditioned vehicles will be used and those who don’t have air-conditioned vehicles will have 10-minute breaks every hour to cool down. 

If temperatures rise above 39°C, an orange alert is issued meaning those who carry out manual labour outdoors will have shifts cancelled or changed to later and workers must go in pairs, never alone. 

What can I do if I feel it’s too hot to work and it’s affecting my health?

If you’re working indoors, it should be easy enough to check what the temperature is and ask your employers to increase the power of the air conditioner, thus cooling the air to less than 27°C. 

If you are a remote worker, you should check how hot your home office or lounge is and inform your boss if you feel it’s over the limit and it’s affecting the way you work. If you don’t have an air conditioner or an adequate fan at home or can’t afford one, it may be a reasonable request for your company to be able to provide a fan for you to work at home. 

For those working outside, it’s important to speak up if you feel unwell and let your employer know if you feel that the extreme heat is putting your health at risk. Make sure you are provided with all the necessary equipment and are given enough breaks with plenty of water and shade. 

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VISAS

When will Spain’s new startups law and digital nomad visa come into force?

Since the Spanish government announced its planned startups law and digital nomad visa in 2021, many remote workers have been waiting with bated breath to find out when they may be able to come and work in Spain.

When will Spain's new startups law and digital nomad visa come into force?

Spain attracts many from around the world thanks to its great climate, buzzing cultural cities and picturesque coastlines, but up until now it hasn’t been legally possible for many remote workers or digital nomads to work here without the correct visa or complex paperwork. 

The new Ley de Startups or startups law, which was announced in 2021 aims to address this issue, as well as attracting investors and new companies to its shores with incentives and tax breaks. 

The Spanish government initially said the law would come into force in the second half of 2022, but there has been no more news on exactly when, until now. 

In late September, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez promised that the much-anticipated Ley de Startups, which includes the digital nomad visa, would come into force “very soon”.

READ ALSO – COMPARE: Could Spain become the best country in the EU for digital nomads?

During a presentation at the Alianza por la España Nación Emprendedora (Alliance for the Spanish Entrepreneurial Nation), Sánchez said he is “confident that the law will be approved during this period of parliamentary sessions”, which runs from September to December 2022.

It’s worth keeping in mind that after the Spanish Cabinet (El Consejo de Ministros) approves a law, it has to receive the go-ahead by other parties in the Spanish Parliament and jump through several bureaucratic hoops before actually being published in the state bulletin (BOE) and coming into force.

This means at best that it may become law at the very end of 2022 or even into early 2023, meaning realistically that remote workers and digital nomads will probably have to work several more months before they can take advantage of this new law. 

Sánchez admitted that he recognises the obstacles faced by entrepreneurs and reiterated his commitment to “change laws where there are inefficiencies” and to “eliminate barriers”, as well as to adapt rules so that Spain can compete internationally.

“I am aware that there is still a lot to do”, he said, whilst at the same time acknowledging that the law does not achieve 100 percent of its objectives.

The startups law is part of the Recovery, Transformation and Resilience Plan, which aims to attract startups and investors to the country by making the situation easier for them, as well as providing tax breaks.  

READ ALSO – Tax cuts and special visas: Spain’s new law to attract foreign startups and digital nomads

It will be open to anyone from the EU or third countries, as long as they haven’t been resident in Spain in the previous five previous years and will allow workers to gain access to a special visa which can be renewed for up to five years. 

It will give startups and investors a reduction in Corporation Tax from 25 to 15 percent during the first four years and will also allow remote workers to be able to pay Non-Residents Tax (IRNR). This means workers and companies who obtain income in Spain, but do not stay over for more than 183 days.

The law also includes a new visa that will allow digital nomads to stay and work in Spain for a period of one year. Once it has expired, however, they can extend it by requesting a residence authorisation as a remote worker for a further two years and then extend it again, up to five years.

Digital nomads will be able to benefit from the same reduced tax rate of 15 percent, but only for the first four years.

What hasn’t been confirmed yet are the exact conditions and requirements digital nomads will have to meet, such as the minimum amount they’ll have to earn or the type of qualifications they might have to have. 

Some experts believe that the government will set this at around €2,000 per month.

It’s also not clear yet whether digital nomads will have to pay social security and be eligible for state health care or if they’ll have to get private health insurance to meet the requirements for the visa.

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