Spain’s Labour and Social Security Inspectorate has inspected the “Big Four” firms to control working time and overtime, which employees claim is regularly exceeded. Spanish law requires companies to record workers’ start and end times each day to prevent employees from working longer than the stipulated day. Companies failing to comply can face fines and even criminal charges. The inspections could set a precedent for firms in the auditing and consultancy sectors.
In recent days, the press has reported on the “macro-inspection” carried out in the “Big Four” (the most important firms in the consultancy and auditing sector) by the labour authority, namely the Labour and Social Security Inspectorate (“Inspección de Trabajo y Seguridad Social”).
The aim of this inspection is, fundamentally, the control of working time, overtime and time recording, all aspects which, according to the workers themselves, are flagrantly breached by the aforementioned companies.
Thus, it seems to be a general trend that the employees of the “Big Four” work up to 12 hours a day (“from nine to nine”), which means approximately 4 hours of overtime a day; overtime that, to make matters worse, is not compensated either financially or by days off. Being forced to work during rest periods, such as weekends or holidays, is also common practice.
Given the situation and the facts described above, how can they be transferred to the legal plane? What breaches would the “Big Four” be committing, and what responsibilities would they have to face, in accordance with our Labour Law?
Well, firstly, since 2019, the year in which Royal Decree-Law 8/2019 of 8 March came into force, the company is obliged to keep a daily record of the working day, including the specific start and end times of each worker’s working day. The purpose of this measure is, precisely, to avoid what happens in the “Big Four”, that is, that employees work longer than the established working day, which, in the words of the Explanatory Memorandum of the aforementioned regulation, produces a clear negative effect on the labour market:
“The performance of working time in excess of the legally or conventionally established working day has a substantial impact on the precariousness of the labour market, by affecting two essential elements of the employment relationship, working time, with a relevant influence on the personal life of the worker by making it difficult to reconcile family life, and salary. It also impacts Social Security contributions, which are reduced as they are not paid for the salary corresponding to the working day”.
The daily record of each worker’s working day is thus an essential element for the purposes of calculating overtime, i.e., those hours worked over the maximum duration of the ordinary working day, and which must, in any event, be compensated, either financially or through equivalent paid rest periods; in addition to also having a quantitative limit, insofar as article 35.2 of the Workers’ Statute provides that the number of overtime hours may not exceed 80 per year.
No less important is the certainly novel “right to digital disconnection in the workplace”, which takes the form of the worker’s right to guarantee, outside the legally or conventionally established working time, respect for their rest time, leave and holidays, as well as their personal and family privacy, and which is recognized in article 88 of our current Personal Data Protection Act.
At this point, what happens then if the company transgresses the legal rules and limits on working hours, overtime, rest breaks, holidays, working time records and, in general, working time, as apparently occurs in the cases described at the beginning of this article?
Well, it faces a financial fine of 751 euros in the minimum grade, and up to 7,500 euros in the worst case, according to the Law on Infractions and Penalties in the Social Order.
In the worst-case scenario, a possible criminal liability could even be considered for allegedly committing an offense against workers’ rights. This is by no means a trivial matter, as our Criminal Code provides for such offenses to be punishable not only by a fine but also by imprisonment.
We are faced with the possibility that the Labour Inspectorate’s action with regard to the so-called “Big Four” will set a precedent with regard to the prohibition of endless working hours, so common in sectors such as auditing or consultancy, which will also benefit the working conditions of workers as a whole.