There are a lot of gray areas in rules governing aguinaldos

The time for paying the 2012 aguinaldo or Christmas bonus is approaching fast, and expats can find detailed discussions of the mandatory payment on the Web site of the Ministerio de Trabajo in Spanish and on the sites of a number of local lawyers.

The payment is due to employees by Dec. 20, based on earnings from Dec. 1, 2011, to Nov. 30, 2012. The payment is supposed to be an additional twelfth of what the employee earned. Those employers who do not pay can end up in labor court.

Still expats have a lot of questions, such as how the aguinaldo is calculated for someone who has been ill or incapacitated for a period during the year. Or do they have to compensate the live-in maid for her housing and her food as well as her salary?

The ministry is quick to point out that plenty of gray areas exist in the law. Pretty well established is that expats do not have to pay aguinaldos to their plumbers or their lawyers. These are people who provide professional services. But how about the gardener or the guy who comes around each week to wash the car?

Thankfully, legislation does not require the payment of social charges on the aguinaldo. There is no Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social involved nor does the amount show up in theriesgo de trabajo workmen’s compensation premium.

For the live-in maid, the ministry advises figuring that the food and housing represents about 50 percent of the salary, so the aguinaldo payment would be 150 percent of a twelfth of the salary.

Generally employers do not have to pay for the period that an employee has been on sick leave or otherwise not at work even if they received a full or partial payment during that time, according to the ministry.

Workers who pay their own Caja charges, such as a professional gardener, generally are not entitled to aguinaldo, although a wise expat might be inclined to pay the money to avoid future conflicts.

And this is a good time for expats to review their employment relationships to make sure there are valid contracts that defined the job. At the same time, expats should check that all who come on a property to do work are covered by the Caja, either by the expats him or herself or with an independent worker policy.

Some presumed independent workers have been known to bring labor court actions against an employer claiming they really were employees and are entitled to years of back vacation pay and aguinaldos.

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