Tapas and sunshine might entice you to look for a job in Spain, but there’s much more to it. Dive into Spain labor laws with this guide.
Spain is a diverse country that attracts many expats who are relocating and looking for work. The good news is that it also has robust worker protections that provide for worker safety, well-being, and job security. Contracts, working hours, paid leave, and wages are just a few of the highly regulated areas of Spanish employment. Use this guide to uncover the many layers of Spain’s labor laws, with sections that include:
- Labor laws in Spain
- Foreign workers – your right to work in Spain
- Employment contracts under Spain labor laws
- Work hours under Spain labor laws
- Wages and salaries
- Paid and unpaid leave
- Parental rights under Spain labor laws
- Social security and tax in Spain
- Protection from workplace discrimination
- Joining a union in Spain
- Health and safety at work
- Training and development
- Terminating the employment relationship in Spain
- Mergers and insolvencies
- Temporary, part-time, agency, and informal workers
- Making a complaint as a worker in Spain
- Useful resources
Labor law in Spain
Spain’s labor laws are very comprehensive and provide significant protection for employees. A key aspect of Spain’s employment legislation is the Workers’ Statute (Estatuto de los Trabajadores), which regulates many aspects of individual and collective employment relations. Spain also passed urgent reforms of the labor market in 2012 in response to the 2008 economic crisis. Other recent legislative actions have addressed workplace safety, gender equality, workers’ data protection, remote working, delivery platform workers, and social security benefits.
Research on the well-being of workers in Spain has some mixed findings. The country scores below average among OECD countries when it comes to jobs and earnings. For instance, the annual household income after taxes and transfers in Spain is just under €20,000, which is lower than the OECD average (€27,568). Spain also has a considerable gap between the highest and lowest earners in the country. The top 20% of the population earn close to seven times as much as the bottom 20%. A higher percentage of Spain’s workforce has a paid job (62%) than in Italy and Greece. The OECD average is 68%.
However, Spain gets high marks for work-life balance. In Spain, only 4% of employees work very long hours, less than the OECD average of 11%. Workers in Spain log around 1,686 hours of working time annually, slightly lower than the OECD average of 1,726 hours per year.
That said, recent studies have also shown that workers in Spain experience a significant amount of work-related stress. Depression is the second leading cause of incapacity for work in Spain. As such, it is a good idea to be aware of what to expect in Spanish business culture in order to help manage work-related stress.
Temporary COVID-19 measures
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Spanish government passed some temporary labor measures. The following rules went into effect in May 2020:
- Reasons related to the COVID-19 crisis are not legitimate grounds for dismissal and the crisis cannot be treated as an event that terminates the employment contract.
- Employees have enhanced rights to request adaptations to their working hours and patterns, and working time reductions.
- Certain employees who do not work in essential services and cannot work at home may be obliged to take paid time off that they will have to work to make up in future.
Foreign workers – your right to work in Spain
Of the more than 46 million people living in Spain, 14% are immigrants. Close to 63% of Spain’s foreign workforce population was employed in 2019. That’s a higher percentage than in Greece (53%) and France (58.9%), but lower than in the Netherlands (66.6%) and Germany (70.8%).
If you’re a citizen of the European Union (EU), European Economic Area (EEA), or Switzerland, you’re allowed to live and work in Spain without a visa or permit. Non-EU citizens will need a work permit. In most cases, non-EU citizens will have to secure a job before they can apply for permits to work and live in Spain.
If you are a UK citizen and you were already a legal resident of Spain before 1 January 2021, you do not need a work visa due to Brexit. UK citizens who wish to come to Spain to work post-Brexit will need a work visa. Other employees who are exempt include academics and close relatives who are joining family members working in Spain.
Employment contracts under Spain labor laws
Legal Spanish employment contracts can be in writing or verbal. However, Spain labor law does require certain employment contracts to be in writing, such as temporary employment contracts, contracts involving special labor relations (e.g., lawyers, top managers, and commercial representatives), and part-time contracts. The Public State Employment Service (SEPE) should receive the contract within 10 days of the contract coming into force. Workers who are at least 18 years of age can sign a work contract. Those between 16 and 18 years old will need permission from a parent. It is not legal for people younger than 16 years old to work in Spain.
Your employer in Spain can ask you to perform duties of higher or lower categories than those specified in the contract. However, if the duties are in a higher category, you might be eligible for a pay raise and a promotion. Employers must comply with the requirements and procedures laid down in labor legislation when making changes to contracts. Otherwise, the worker has the right to terminate the contract with compensation.
When you start a job, you may work a probationary period of up to two or six months. If your employment contract is longer than four weeks, your employer has two months from the start date to provide you with the following in writing:
- Identification of the parties in the employment agreement
- Employment duration for temporary contracts
- Work location
- Professional group or category
- Base salary as well as other compensation or benefits, if any
- Total working hours and holidays
- Notice periods
- Applicable collective agreement
Indefinite and temporary contracts
Employment contracts in Spain are generally presumed to be for an indefinite or open-ended term. In short, they don’t establish a time limit. However, temporary (fixed) contracts are possible in the following circumstances:
- Contract for a specific service: If this exceeds one year, the employer must give 15 days’ notice.
- Contract for production contingencies: This contract may not run for more than six months within a 12-month period.
- Temporary replacement contract: This must specify the worker replaced and the reason for the replacement.
If the employee continues to work past the original term of the temporary agreement, the relationship becomes indefinite. As a result, the employee should receive the standard severance package.
These contracts are generally for workers over 16 and under 21 who lack the qualifications necessary to draw up a work experience contract.
This contract must run for at least six months but cannot be longer than two years.
Work experience contract
The following requirements apply in order to enter into this contract:
- The worker must possess either university or vocational training qualifications, or an equivalent.
- Studies must have been validated in Spain within the last four years (six for workers with a disability).
Work experience contracts must run for at least six months but cannot last for longer than two years.
Home work and part-time contracts
The duration of these contracts may be indefinite or fixed. In both cases, they must always be in writing, specifying the place where the services occur and the duration of the working day.
Wages and salary in Spain
The minimum salary for a full-time job in Spain is €1,108 gross per month in 2021. Companies typically pay workers in Spain 14 times a year (with additional payments in July and December). As previously mentioned, the annual household income after taxes and transfers in Spain is just under €20,000 per year. Under Spain’s labor law, an employee’s salary can be monetary or in-kind, but the latter cannot be higher than 30% of the total amount of the salary.
If you’ve signed a work contract and your employer asks you to perform higher category duties than specified in the contract, then you must receive the wage corresponding to that category. You have the right to a promotion if you perform the higher category duties for more than six months in one year or eight months in two years.
Work hours in Spain’s labor laws
Full-time work in Spain is based on a maximum of 40 hours per week, calculated on an annual basis. According to Spain labor laws, at least 12 hours must elapse between the end of one working day and the start of the next. Once you’ve worked continuously for six hours in a working day, you can take a 15-minute break.
Your employer in Spain should give you a minimum weekly rest time of one and a half uninterrupted days. This usually includes Saturday afternoon or Monday morning, and all of Sunday.
Generally speaking, if your employer wants you to work more than nine hours a day you will need to agree to the extra hours. However, you cannot work more than 80 hours of overtime per year. This does not include overtime compensated with rest time, or work carried out to prevent or repair extraordinary and urgent damage. Overtime at night is illegal with very few exceptions. Your employer can compensate you for your overtime with paid rest time.
Working hours for employees under age 18
Special rules apply to workers who are between the minimum employment age of 16 and 18 years old. These regulations include:
- Only allowed to work for eight hours a day across employers, including training.
- Require a 30-minute break after four and a half hours of continuous work.
- Minimum of two consecutive days in weekly rest time.
- Cannot perform work at night or activities that are unhealthy, dangerous, or distressing.
Paid and unpaid leave in Spain
Holiday pay in Spain
Annual holiday leave in Spain is generous. A full-time worker may take 22 working days (30 calendar days) of paid holiday time annually. They can take it all at once or divide it up, but Spain’s labor laws require that at least one period of holiday leave must be two weeks long.
Furthermore, Spain has nine national public holidays in 2021 and two to three times as many at the local and regional levels. That means your paid time off will depend on where you live in Spain. Any public holidays on a Sunday transfer to the Monday right after. Many parents enjoy taking off work while their children are on school holidays. These dates also vary according to the regional autonomous communities.
Employers in Spain cannot replace holidays with financial compensation. When workers with casual or temporary contracts cannot take holidays because they don’t work for the company during holiday periods, they receive wages pro-rata.
Maternity and paternity pay in Spain
Spain has been working in recent years to balance leave allowances for all parents. Consequently, as of January 2021, maternity and paternity leave in Spain is now 16 weeks for both parents. Spain also grants this paid leave to adoptive and foster parents. In the case of a birth, the parents must take off six weeks immediately after the child is born. Parents can take off the remaining 10 weeks as desired within the 12 months following the birth or adoption. They must confirm the leave with their employer.
Parents receive one additional week for each child, multiple births, and in the event that a child has a disability. If there is a premature birth or hospitalization is required for more than seven days, parents can extend their leave by 13 weeks.
While parents are taking maternity and paternity leave, they will earn 100% of their normal salary. To be eligible for the benefit, you need to have contributed to Spanish social security for at least 180 days in the last seven years or 360 days in your entire working life. However, Spain also has a maternity benefit for women who haven’t met the social security requirement. It amounts to approximately €530 per month.
Self-employed parents can also claim maternity and paternity benefits are if they are registered in the Spanish social security system.
Sick pay in Spain
In Spain, if you are sick or injured and have to stop working temporarily, you can claim an allowance for temporary incapacity. It will enable you to cover the loss of your daily income while you are off work, in addition to receiving healthcare. From day 4–20 of your sick or injury leave, you receive 60% of your salary. You get 75% of your salary from the 21st day of your sick leave.
In order to receive this benefit, you will need a medical examination by a doctor from the Servicio Público de Salud (State Health Services). Then, the doctor can certify your illness.
If you are an employee, your employer is responsible for applying for your sick leave and will pay the costs of the first 15 days of the allowance. After that, the Sistema Nacional de la Seguridad Social will bear the costs.
If you are self-employed (autónomo), you should submit a statement to announce if you’ve suspended your work activities temporarily or definitively. The Instituto Nacional de la Seguridad Social (INSS) or the insurance company collaborating with social security will pay the temporary incapacity allowance directly to you.
You can claim the allowance from the INSS or the insurance company using the application for temporary incapacity payment. The maximum period of such leave is 18 months, after which the authorities will review the situation.
Other forms of paid leave in Spain
Additionally, workers may take paid time off for the following:
- Marriage: 15 calendar days
- Death, accident, or serious illness or hospitalization of a family member: two calendar days, or four if travel is required
- Moving house: one day
- Breastfeeding children under nine months of age: one hour of absence from work per day, or half an hour if taken at the beginning or end of the working day. Either the mother or the father can take the leave if both are working
- Legal guardianship of a child under 12 or of a person with a disability: reduction of the working day by between one-eighth and one-half
- Public and personal obligations (e.g., jury duty, appearance in court): as long as necessary
- Perform trade union or workers’ representation duties: the amount of time established by law or collective agreement
In every case, the worker must inform the employer in advance.
Unpaid leave in Spain
Extended leave of absence is when an employee asks to suspend their employment contract. As a result, the employer and employee keep a professional relationship, but the employee isn’t required to work and the employer doesn’t need to pay them a salary. It may be either compulsory or voluntary. If it’s the latter, at least one year’s service in the company is necessary. The extended leave can last between two and five years.
In many cases, the employee must return to their previous job at the end of the suspension. If the worker takes an extended unpaid leave due to a temporary illness or injury, the employee doesn’t have to return if they are officially, permanently incapacitated.
Employees can also claim a leave of absence of one year, which can extend by mutual agreement, to care for a family member who cannot work and look after themselves because of their age, accident, disability, or illness.
Parental rights in Spain’s labor laws
Parents and soon-to-be-parents can receive paid time off to attend tests and examinations before childbirth and training prior to adoption and fostering.
Mothers and fathers in Spain can both take paid breastfeeding leave. They can choose to take breastfeeding leave for one hour during their workday or reduce their working hours by 30 minutes until their child is nine months old. On the other hand, they can choose to accumulate breastfeeding time and take 13 to 15 days off.
Additional protections for biological and adoptive parents under Spain’s labor laws include:
- An employer cannot terminate a pregnant woman. If the woman is let go from her job during a probationary period, the company must provide evidence to prove her pregnancy is not the reason.
- Women are entitled to social security benefits if they cannot fulfill some or all of their work duties due to their high-risk pregnancy.
- Employees can take extended, unpaid parental leave to bring up their biological or adopted child in the three-year period after the birth or adoption. During this extended parental leave, employees are not generally provided any social security benefits (with some exceptions in certain regions).
- If the employee takes parental leave of no longer than one year (15–18 months if the employee has four or more children), they are entitled to resume their former job after the leave. If the employee takes a longer leave, they are entitled only to return to a similar job.
- Employees who have requested or are taking parental leave have special protection from dismissal.
Social security and tax in Spain
Workers in Spain must pay Spanish taxes and register with the Spanish Social Security service (Tesorería General de la Seguridad Social or TGSS). You pay contributions into the Spanish social security system in order to access its benefits and insurance coverage for illness, injuries, work-related accidents, unemployment, and maternity and paternity leave. Generally speaking, contribution rates for 2021 are 6.35% for employees and 29.90% for employers, plus a variable rate for occupational accidents (e.g., 1.5% for office work).
Self-employed workers come under a special scheme known as the régimen especial trabajadores autónomos. You must pay all of the social security contributions yourself according to a minimum monthly amount. This means self-employed people typically pay more in their contributions than a company employee and will need to have arrangements in place to cover this cost.
Protection from workplace discrimination in Spain’s labor laws
Spain is taking steps to improve gender equality in the workplace. As of 2021, companies with 50 or more workers must create and implement an equality plan. They must include a salary audit in the plan and make it publicly available. For companies with 50 or more employees, if one gender earns at least 25% higher than the other gender, the employer must justify that those salary differences are not based on discrimination.
This change is important because, while Spain ranks in the top 10 on the World Economic Forum’s global gender gap index, it still has a large pay gap between men and women. In fact, while men working full-time earned an average of €29,400 annually, women had annual average salaries of €26,300.
Spain’s labor laws also protect against discrimination on the grounds of sex, marital status, race, color, nationality, ethnic or national origin, disability religion or belief, and age. The law prohibits direct discrimination, indirect discrimination, harassment, and victimization. If a worker in Spain feels that they have been discriminated against in the workplace or if they’ve been harassed at work, they can take the case to the Labor court.
Employers are also generally required to take appropriate measures for adapting the workplace to enable people with disabilities access to employment, job progress, and job training. Companies with more than 50 employees must reserve a quota of 2% of their staff for disabled people.
Joining a union in Spain
The Spanish constitution guarantees the right for workers to organize and participate in trade unions. There are two types of employee representation in Spain: individual delegates and works councils. Individual delegates represent workers in companies or worksites having up to 50 workers. A works council serves employers of companies with more than 50 workers.
Another protection for workers within Spain’s labor laws is the right to strike. For strikes against a single company, trade unions, elected representatives (works councils, employee delegates), or the employees themselves can organize. However, trade unions must call strikes affecting an entire sector.
Health and safety at work in Spain
Workers in Spain are entitled to participate in the company on issues related to health and safety in the workplace. Health and Safety representatives (delegados de prevención) are elected by workers in all companies employing more than five people. They have substantial consultation rights and in larger companies they work with employers in health and safety committees.
Spain has also passed new rules to help ensure employee well-being while working remotely (teletrabajo). For example, labor laws now stipulate that workers have the right to a private life and to disconnect from their work activities outside of working hours. Employees also have the right to digital disconnection outside of their working hours and when on holiday. In short, when you’re off the clock you generally have the right to not answer your phone, even if it is your work phone, and email or social media messages.
Training and development in Spain
As a worker in Spain, you can benefit from upskilling or reskilling. Spain has government-funded vocational training courses for both employees and those that are unemployed. The training is funded through Spanish social security contributions, the European Social Fund, and the Spanish Public State Employment Service (Servicio Público de Empleo Estatal – SPEE). Each employee can claim 20 hours of free training per year.
Training for the unemployed is mostly funded through the SPEE and managed by the educational authorities of the Autonomous Communities. Programs vary across regions but typically include transferable skills and beginner-level courses (e.g., administration, retail). Most regions also have a specific program for young people.
Terminating the employment relationship in Spain
Spanish Labor Law requires that if either an employer or an employee wants to terminate an employment agreement, they must provide a minimum of 15 days’ notice in writing. This rule does not apply to interim contracts or probation periods. The contract may stipulate a longer notice.
An employer in Spain can legally dismiss an employee for three reasons:
Objective (extinción del contrato por causas objetivas): occurs when the employee doesn’t adapt to reasonable technical modifications to their job or if the employee can’t perform their work (for reasons other than injury, illness, or pregnancy) and this didn’t come to light during the employee’s probationary period. The employee is entitled to compensation of 20 days’ pay per year of service, up to a maximum of 12 months’ pay. During the notice period, the employee can take six hours of paid leave per week to look for a new job.
Disciplinary (despido disciplinario): is a consequence of issues such as repeated or unjustified absences or being chronically late to work. It can also happen if an employee insults, physically harms, or harasses the employer, other employees, or their household members. Other grounds for disciplinary dismissal include contract violations and substance abuse that affects the employee’s work. When dismissing an employee for disciplinary reasons, the employer must inform them in writing of the reasons for the decision and the date of termination. If the employee is a trade union member, the employer must consult union delegates.
Collective (despido colectivo): can happen because of economic, technical, organizational, or production reasons within the company. An employer contemplating a collective dismissal must consult statutory employee representatives over a period of up to 30 calendar days (15 days for companies with fewer than 50 employees).
Leaving a job voluntarily
You can resign from your job in Spain at any time. As noted above, you’ll need to give your employer written notice at least 15 days in advance.
The notice period may be longer depending on your contract or union agreement. You could be eligible for 20 days’ compensation for each year of your employment with the company in the following situations:
- Your employer is not upholding your agreed-upon employment contract, for example, by not paying on time or paying the agreed amount.
- Your employer substantially changes your working conditions and doesn’t follow Spain’s labor law regulations in making those changes.
- You don’t consent to transferring to a different work location which will involve a change of residence.
Spain’s labor laws have specific protocols for certain cases when an employee can be made redundant, called objective cases. These types of redundancy usually happen during an economic downturn. When an employer wants to break an employee’s contract due to objective redundancy, the employee can receive 20 days’ salary for every year they have been working for the company (maximum 12 months’ salary). This compensation adds up to 45 days in cases of unfair redundancies (with no justified reason).
The company must give the employee notice at least 30 days before the employee is discharged. Furthermore, the company must allow the employee to leave work at least six hours a week in order to have time to look for a new job.
The minimum age that you can retire in Spain and earn a Spanish pension is currently around 65 years old. However, the country is gradually raising the retirement age until it reaches age 67 by 2027. To qualify for the minimum state pension, you must have worked and paid Spanish social security contributions for at least 15 years. Two of these years must be within the 15 year period immediately preceding the pension claim. Full pension requires 35 years of social security contributions in Spain and that’s increasing to 38 and a half years by 2027.
If you want to retire early, you will incur a penalty in terms of the pension you will earn. Voluntary early retirement is restricted in Spain. You can retire two years early if you meet certain conditions and have made at least 35 years of contributions.
Additionally, there are some special cases (e.g., disabled workers or hazardous jobs) in which you can claim a full Spanish pension from the age of 60 (or as early as 52 in some situations) if you have made sufficient contributions.
If you meet the age and contributions requirement, you might be able to partially retire. You must reduce your working day by 25–50% and meet the rest of the conditions required for ordinary retirement.
Company mergers and insolvencies in Spain
If the company that you work for comes under new ownership, your employee contract automatically transfers to the new owner. That means the new employer must observe all existing employment and social security rights and obligations. The old and new employers must inform the representatives of employees affected by the transfer about its planned date, reasons for the transfer, and consequences for employees. This information must be shared before the transfer affects employees’ employment and working conditions.
In the case that your employer goes bankrupt or is declared insolvent, you can access a special insolvency state fund (Fogasa) to receive the wages that your company owes you. Part-time and fixed-term workers are also eligible to receive the funds. The guarantee covers wages, bonuses, and fringe benefits as well as financial employee participation that arises up to one year before the insolvency.
Temporary, part-time, agency, and informal workers in Spain
Spain requires government oversight of temporary work agencies (empresas de trabajo temporal) that employ workers and provide them temporarily to client companies. The agency is responsible for paying agency workers and dealing with social security matters. During the assignment, the agency employee receives the same rights and protections as any other worker under Spain’s labor laws.
The Spanish government is considering new regulations in 2021 that would limit temporary contracts to six months or one year at the most. This is to prevent companies from having employees work indefinitely on a temporary contract.
Making a complaint as a worker in Spain
Spain’s labor law provides for specialized courts to oversee cases that relate to labor and employment. In most cases, before the labor courts will hear a case, the two sides must try to resolve the issue. The national public Mediation, Conciliation and Arbitration Services (Servicios de Mediación, Arbitraje y Conciliación – SMAC) or a regional equivalent provide conciliation services.
The requirement for prior conciliation does not apply to disputes over certain issues, including:
- Challenges to collective dismissals by employee representatives
- Use of annual leave
- Geographical mobility
- Substantial modifications of employment conditions
- Suspension of employment contracts due to economic, technical, organizational, or production reasons
- Reconciliation of personal/family life and work
If the employee and employer cannot reach an agreement, cases generally proceed to the local labor courts (juzgados de lo social). Their rulings can be appealed to the labor chamber of the relevant regional high court of justice (Tribunal Superior de Justicia), whose rulings can be appealed to the labor chamber of the Supreme Court (Tribunal Supremo). Some labor law cases can be taken up by the Constitutional Court (Tribunal Constitucional).
- Ministry of Labor and Social Economy (in Spanish) – the federal authority for labor regulations.
- Public State Employment Service (SEPE) – autonomous body attached to the Ministry of Labor and Social economy. Its main duties include managing and controlling unemployment benefits.
- European Commission – the EU provides information on living and working conditions in Spain and the rest of the EU countries.
- European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) – speaks with a single voice on behalf of European workers to have a stronger say in EU decision-making.