2017 has started with the issuance of important rulings from the Constitutional Court, regarding special protection of stability for: (i) employees close to retirement, and (ii) for the mates of women who are unemployed and expecting a child. Also, at the beginning of the year the Congress issued new provisions on maternity leave. Finally, we are expecting some amendments to the current working hours legal provisions.

In Colombia public employees are entitled to a special protection when they are close to retirement. These employees cannot be dismissed within three years before obtaining the pension. There is an expectation that the protection is extended to private employees.

Constitutional protection of stability has become a very sensitive subject in Colombia. If the constitutional court extends the protection to the private employees a new stability would be established, making Colombian labor law even more protective with employees.

On the other hand, the Constitutional Court through a recent ruling extended the protection for pregnant employees to women that financially depend on their husband or wife. We understand the special stability is intended to protect women and the new born baby, but also protects and guarantees the companion’s rights to provide needed resources.

Is important to mention that such ruling does not increase employers labor costs in any way, because the current term of paternity leave (eight (8) business days) has not been modified. At the end, the extension of such protection is a step forward to remove sociocultural patterns and stereotypes, without causing economic effects that may affect companies.

In the same subject, Law 1822 of 2017 established new rules regarding the maternity leave, increasing the time from fourteen (14) to eighteen (18) weeks. This change is important because it allows mothers to spend more time with their new born, but on the other hand, concerns employers and Health Entities (“Entidades Promotoras de Salud – EPS”) that must face this extension in terms of time (without the employee rendering services to the company) and cost (four (4) more weeks of payment, which is the EPS’s legal obligation).

Colombian Social Security System, especially on health matters has severe financial difficulties, which require drastic measures and does not need additional costs. Moreover, this ruling puts women at a disadvantage in the labor market.

Finally, we are expecting some changes regarding working hours. The Congress is currently drafting a law modifying charges for night work, and discussing the working schedule. If this occurs companies will face an increase on their labor costs, especially for employees that work between 6:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m., and for cases when the services are provided in a regular and permanent basis (such as call centers).

One wonders whether these changes could affect Colombia’s competitiveness from a labor perspective, putting the country at a clear disadvantage with respect to other countries in terms of direct foreign investments (making it hard to expand its international presence).

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