Big changes are coming to the workplace in Portugal—but you might not be seeing them for another few years. In an interview with Best Lawyers CEO Phillip Greer, Pedro Pardal Goulão of Morais Leitão, Galvão Teles, Soares da Silva & Associados, Sociedade de Advogados discusses new legislation to address Portugal’s gender wage gap, and his firm’s 2019 “Law Firm of the Year” award for Labor and Employment Law.

Phillip Greer: Are there any trends you've witnessed within the labor and employment law sector in the past year?

Pedro Pardal Goulão: At least from my personal experience, one that has been quite interesting is the increasing numbers of startup companies in Portugal. Lisbon is seen as a very promising startup hub, and probably because of that, we have seen a significant rise in the number of these type of businesses in our country as well. We have a lot of foreign startups that are setting up here in Portugal.

We have been involved in many of those investments in Portugal through what our office calls “Project Genesis,” which is a cross-functional group where we have people from different areas of law come together and advise these companies. There's a whole new mindset, and that requires an inventive legal approach regarding their employment matters.

Typically, employment law matters are more focused on termination and payment, but for these tech companies, the mindset is totally different and more focused on the rules around hiring. They’re doing a lot of work to retain those individuals that are also coming to Portugal, and so we have to keep our mind open and search for innovative contractual solutions that we would not be working on, were it not for these new investors. So, it has been quite interesting for us and quite challenging.

Do you see labor and employment law changing in Portugal in the coming years?

In the short term, no. Of course, we will always have trends but we are not expecting huge changes soon. We will have some announced new amendments that are going to be passed by the Portuguese parliament that are likely to be entered in the beginning or mid-year. Some of them are important, but I wouldn't say that there is going to be a "game changer" in employment law in Portugal.

In the long term, for sure. Not only because of the concerns of the new employees, but also because of technological innovation and the ways in which the employees will relate to the employer. That will bring some bigger amendments, eventually.

One year since its introduction, how long has the gender pay gap legislation impacted labor and employment law in Portugal?

We still have a long way to go. There are some initiatives in Portugal, and some of them at a legal level, but I expect further legislation will come in to enforce this. I think that is a trend in some other European countries that has been discussed, but it is starting to be discussed in Portugal right now. Even so, I would say that decreasing the pay gap is at the top of the political agenda.

How have economic recovery and increased hiring been felt in the labor-employment sector?

Regarding the economic recovery, that is something that is undeniable, and of course in the employment sector, it has a clear impact. In terms of the demand for employment-related work, we haven't felt a big difference, but I would say that employment lawyers are now occupied with different types of work in the last few years. Before economic recovery and the Portuguese bailout, I would say that the major concerns of our clients as employers were definitely on how to downsize or cut personnel costs. That was their drive and that was their main concern more in terms of surviving in a difficult market.

Now, companies have a different mindset, and they are more focused on flexible and efficient ways to hire, reward, and retain their employees, rather than just thinking about cutting costs.

They’re doing a lot of work to retain those individuals that are also coming to Portugal, and so we have to keep our mind open and search for innovative contractual solutions that we would not be working on, were it not for these new investors.

In terms of employment law, our work in advising transactional work is also increasing. There are more MNAs and FPAs and that implies, for instance, many transfers of businesses, with a transfer of the employees allocated to those businesses. We also have massive employment law amendments regarding the business transfer of employees. The work and the main concerns of the employers are a little bit different now.

How has the disability hiring provision affected employers in Portugal?

The disability hiring provisions are quite recent in Portugal. They were passed roughly one month ago, and apply to companies with a certain number of employees. We don't have yet a clear idea of what the impact is going to be, but yes, as with the gender pay, I think that the disability hiring provision is a top priority. It is too soon to make an assessment on how it has affected employers, but from our experience, they are aware that things will change on this matter.

You've touched on this a little bit in your earlier answers, but I'll ask it again specifically. In what ways has technology affected labor and employment?

To begin with, it affects the way we work as employment lawyers. That is something that requires a lot of investment on our part, and our law firm is trying to keep up with the best practices to make sure that we have the best tools to help us increase efficiency while working. Maybe, in employment law, it's not one of the areas where it is so obvious, but still it is something we are using. For instance, we are developing some tools with external advisors and we are working on that in terms of making us easier to go through hundreds or thousands of documents and to directly go to what we are trying to find out. In a nutshell, we are trying to keep up the pace with the best international practices on this.

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How does your firm stay agile against competitors in labor and employment law?

Again, we try to make sure that we are working and learning with the best practices at the international level, and that we are bringing those tools to work in Portugal. And we try to make sure that a number of our lawyers keep focused on attending seminars and conferences to make sure that we have access to the latest trends, and that opens on all the employment areas. Finally, we try to stay humble and focus on our daily work to use that knowledge on behalf of our clients, teaming-up and going the extra mile for every client to make them feel like they're the only one or, at least, a priority.