On 17 May 2023, the Higher Court of Justice of the Basque Country held that a company's refusal to allow an employee to continue teleworking, after it had been temporarily implemented due to the exceptional situation of the COVID-19 pandemic, was unjustified.
The plaintiff in the case is a teleoperator who has been working for the defendant company since January 2012. She works reduced hours due to caring for her mother-in-law, who began living with her in December 2021. The plaintiff requested to work from home to better care for her mother-in-law, but the defendant company denied her request. The company used the absence of an existing teleworking policy in the company, which was only temporarily introduced due to the COVID pandemic, as the reason for denying the request.
The case centers around whether the defendant company acted in good faith in denying the plaintiff's request and whether the plaintiff provided sufficient evidence of her need for accommodation.
In the first instance, the labor court in Bilbao ruled in favor of the company, stating that the worker failed to provide sufficient evidence of the necessity of teleworking. The court rejected the claim for telework and compensation.
On appeal, the Higher Court partially reversed the decision. The court found that the company had not negotiated in good faith, as required by labor laws, when denying the telework request. The court reasoned that the lack of evidence for the plaintiff's family situation should not be an obstacle to considering telecommuting as a valid option, especially considering the constitutional and gender-based protection for balancing family responsibilities, which often fall predominantly on women.
The court held that the worker had the right to telework in order to reconcile her personal and work life, given the care needs of her family member. The court awarded the worker compensation (€1,360) for the days she requested leave due to the company's refusal to allow telework. Additionally, the court granted a separate amount as moral damages (€1,000) for the company's lack of good faith in handling the situation.
The higher court's ruling highlights the importance of negotiating in good faith when dealing with telework requests for family-related reasons and underscores the need for companies to consider employees' personal circumstances in such matters.
Reference: STSJ PV 605/2023 - ECLI:ES:TSJPV:2023:605.