Unpaid leave in Spain: how to cover childcare over the long summer holidays


Spanish school holidays are spread over 9 glorious weeks, filled with fun and guaranteed sunshine. Although of huge benefit to our children, these vacations can cause a headache for working parents, especially expat parents and those who are not necessarily able to call on the support of grandparents or other family members to share the childcare strain.

There are many options available, from a range of super summer camps across the city that take children from as young as 3 years of age, to hiring an au pair, to having a bespoke camp organised for all the neighbours’ kids in your gated residence. However an increasing number of Spanish parents are choosing to take unpaid leave to cover summer holidays. Below is an outline of how this can be done under Spanish law.

Examples of unpaid leave

Spanish employment contracts are governed by different types of collective bargaining agreements that are underpinned by the omnipresent Worker’s Statute which touches upon all areas of Spanish labour legislation, working conditions and circumstances.  There are several ways in which an employee can legally request time away from the workplace, with varying degrees of job security and social security contributions depending on the option chosen: leave of absence for childcare, leave of absence to care for a family member, voluntary leave by mutual agreement or unpaid leave by mutual agreement.

Leave of absence for childcare

When it comes to taking time off to look after small children, it is generally accepted that:

Unpaid leave in Spain

  • Every parent is entitled to take unpaid leave if their child is under 3 years old
  • This leave can be for as short as one day or as long as a year; a maximum period of three years is contemplated.
  • During the unpaid leave an employee’s position is secured and they remain within the social security bracket without actually contributing over that period of time. Neither the employer nor the employee pays any contributions as there is a special arrangement within the Treasury for parents who request this legal route to help with the work-life balance after the birth of a child. They continue receiving benefits and their accumulated pensionable age does not pause during this period.
  • Unpaid leave can be fractioned over time until the child turns 3, fitting in well to the school calendar.

What happens when the child turns 3?

This is when parents need to seek alternative options to mitigate the strain of having young children on school holidays. These alternatives are a leave of absence to care for a family member, voluntary leave by mutual agreement or unpaid leave by mutual agreement. Although none of these options are as ironclad as taking a leave of absence for childcare motives, they are nevertheless open to all employees who have been in their job for one year or more.

 Leave of absence for care of a family member

Unpaid leave in Spain for summer holidays

Although usually opted for by employees who need time off work to tend to elderly parents, this legal right can also be applied to caring for young children who are unable to look after themselves due to their young age.

  • The right to a leave of absence to care for a family member allows an employee to take a maximum of 2 years off work
  • These 2 years can be broken down into periods of not less than 15 days per request
  • The employer is obliged to honour the employee’s position within the company for the first year of absence and thereafter to guarantee a similar position upon his or her return to work
  • Social security payments are suspended but the employee has a right to enjoy all benefits and his/her pensionable age continues to accumulate during the leave of absence.

Voluntary leave by mutual agreement

Requesting voluntary leave is a worker’s right, but has certain conditions attached to it:

  • Voluntary leave must cover a minimum of 4 months, to be enjoyed consecutively, thus dividing it to fit around the school year is not possible.
  • This right can only be exercised once every four years.
  • An employee’s contract is suspended and their job is only guaranteed for the first year; thereafter the company is obliged to find the returning employee a similar role in a similar department.
  • Social security payments are also suspended but the employee has a right to enjoy all benefits and his/her pensionable age continues to accumulate during the voluntary leave by mutual agreement.

Unpaid leave by mutual agreement

Unpaid leave for parents

According to the collective bargaining agreements which cover Spanish labour contracts, every employee has the right to request 15 days of unpaid leave a year. However this is at the discretion of employers as it is not a statutory right.

  • Permissions to take unpaid leave are strictly scrutinized by the Treasury who insist that employers continue making legally established minimum contributions on behalf of the employee during the 15 day period of unpaid leave, thus ensuring that the employee has the right to enjoy benefits such as healthcare in that time.
  • The employee’s contract is not altered, suspended or in any way affected by this unpaid leave by mutual agreement
  • Returning to work after unpaid leave is the same as returning to work after a vacation, no changes in circumstances can or should be made during the period of absence.

Have fun and enjoy the change in routine… summertime is family time!