To most people, he is simply shameless. To others, he is just a worker who has been sick. There are even those who talk about him with mixed tones of admiration and envy.
“He” is a government worker at the Alicante provincial authority, who has made media headlines after it emerged that was on sick leave for a total of 4,453 days between 2001 and 2016.
The employee has continued to receive his salary of €1,500 a month
In other words, he has been away from his post as a nursing assistant at the Doctor Esquerdo psychiatric hospital for 12 years out of 15, as revealed by a report drafted by the provincial authority.
In all this time, the public employee has put in little more than 18 months’ worth of work, since he adds the vacation time attached to his position to his sick leave, creating an endless spiral of vacation-sick leave-vacation-sick leave – all of which appears to be perfectly legal.
“Yes, it is legal, even if ethically and morally it may not seem so,” admitted Alejandro Moral, the provincial official in charge of personnel, at a press conference on Thursday of last week.
“We’ve tried everything from a legal standpoint,” added this official. “We even started disciplinary proceedings against him.”
But the employee has won all the legal battles, including a court case in which he proved that the National Institute for Social Security (INSS) did not properly notify him that he was due back in his post following one of his sick leaves.
This worker alleges that he suffers from a condition – which remains unknown under data-protection laws – that prevents him from carrying out his duties. His physicians have signed off on all his sick leaves without a problem. On seven occasions, these leaves were one year long, and three times they were as long as a year and a half, which is the maximum permitted by the law.
Once that threshold had been reached, the employee would get a checkup from a medical committee attached to the INSS, which would find him fit to go back to work. This agency has denied his requests for permanent work disability on three occasions.
In the meantime, the provincial authority has kept on paying his salary of €1,500 a month.
It is legal, even if ethically and morally it may not seem so
Medical services at the provincial authority have been saying for the last two-and-a-half years that this employee is not fit for work.
“We have explained the situation to the INSS, but they recommended going through the courts if we disagree with their own assessment. And that is what our own legal services are considering right now, because it’s the only way out that is left,” said Morant.
In other words, the provincial authority has gone from taking disciplinary action against the worker to siding with him in order to secure permanent disability leave.
Morant blamed the conflict on a “legal vacuum” created by a regulatory change dating back to 1993. This amendment transferred all employees at local and provincial agencies to the general social security system, yet left payments for sick leaves in the hands of the former authorities.
“Medical checkups are the responsibility of the regional government of Valencia, the INSS answers to state authorities, and the provincial authority sits in the middle. At other times we could have challenged the INSS’s assessment, but we didn’t have any legal arguments due to the negative medical reports,” said Morant.
This official argued that the worker suffers from a condition that prevents him from giving proper care to patients at the hospital, a difficult task that requires full physical and mental health. “So say our medical services, and we are going to stick by that position.”
The provincial authority began keeping track of the absent employee in 2010. Over the next two years, it asked health inspectors to review the sick leaves signed by his physicians. Now, however, the agency’s strategy is to side with the worker and against Social Security.
Situation blamed on a “legal vacuum” created by a regulatory change dating back to 1993
Opposition groups in the regional assembly – the Valencian Socialists and Compromís – have been keeping silent about the case, after past criticism over what they viewed as excessive staff monitoring by the Popular Party (PP), which retains control of the provincial authority despite having lost power across the region at the 2015 elections.
Morant defended the workers at the provincial authority, saying that absenteeism rates are in the range of 5%. “This is an isolated case that should not be extrapolated to the entire staff,” he said.
In the meantime, the employee in question is not on leave, but he is not exactly working, either. He has permission to show up at work for just 30 minutes a week to see patients at the workplace health department.
In an effort to streamline government and curb spending, the Socialist Party (PSOE) and Ciudadanos have campaigned for the elimination of agencies known as Diputaciones. the bodies that govern Spain’s 50 provinces and play a role in the administration of municipal activities, particularly in rural areas.
English version by Susana Urra.