On October 28th, 2022, the PRDOL published a model protocol to prevent and address sexual harassment complaints in the workplace. You can access the PRDOL’s model protocol here. This model protocol was prepared and disseminated by the PRDOL in response to a recent amendment to Act No. 17 of April 22, 1988 (“Act No. 17”), known as Puerto Rico’s Sexual Harassment Act, which, among other things, extended protection against sexual harassment to paid and unpaid interns and mandated that employers have protocols in place to address situations and complaints of sexual harassment in the workplace, while setting forth minimum standards that said protocols must contain. Employers can adopt the model protocol published by the PRDOL or prepare and disseminate their own which must, at a minimum, incorporate the standards established in the PRDOL’s model protocol. Likewise, employers that already have a protocol in place must ensure that it incorporates the minimum standards established in the recent legislation and contained in the PRDOL’s model protocol. Moreover, the Secretary of the PRDOL recommends employers that do not have a protocol in place to adopt the PRDOL model protocol on a temporary basis while they design and disseminate a protocol that addresses the needs of their particular industry, workforce and workplace, while containing the statutory minimum standards.

Below we summarize certain key aspects that you should be mindful of as it pertains to either the revision, adoption and/or creation of a sexual harassment protocol that is fully compliant with recent legislation and the PRDOL’s model protocol.

I. Protocol to address situations and complaints of sexual harassment must, at a minimum, include or provide the following:

1. A statement communicating that sexual harassment is illegal and expressing the company’s zero tolerance policy;
2. Legal basis for the protocol;
3. Definitions;
4. The person responsible for handling and investigating sexual harassment allegations or complaints;
5. Explanation of the process to report and file a complaint;
6. State who can file a complaint for sexual harassment, including the alternative to file a verbal, written or anonymous complaint;
7. Examples of prohibited conduct;
8. Actions to maintain the confidentiality of the complaint;
9. Anti-retaliation provision;
10. Description of the investigative process that follows a complaint for sexual harassment;
11. Measures that can be adopted for victim’s protection, as well as those who testify or collaborate in the investigation;
12. Legal remedies available for victims and the information of agencies that could assist them;
13. Include a complaint form for employees to report sexual harassment incidents;
14. Reference regarding local and federal provision related to sexual harassment.

II. Web Portal

Employers should be mindful that the recent legislation provides for the creation of a webpage (“hostigamientosexual.pr.gov”) where employees may file complaints of sexual harassment in the workplace, that will be addressed, investigated and adjudicated by the PRDOL and the Women’s Solicitor Office. Per a recent communication from the Secretary of the PRDOL, the portal’s availability will be announced soon. Notably, however, the PRDOL and recent legislation are silent as to how these virtual sexual harassment complaints will be notified to employers, if at all, so that employers may take immediate actions to address and correct situations of sexual harassment in the workplace.

If you have any questions or comments regarding these recent developments that impact the employment landscape or if you’d like assistance to revise or modify your practices and policies to ensure compliance with local legislation, please contact any of the following attorneys from our Labor & Employment Practice Group at your convenience:

Juan J. Casillas Ayala787 523-3439jcasillas@cstlawpr.com
Luis F. Llach-Zúñiga787 523-3498lllach@cstlawpr.com
Israel Fernández Rodríguez787-523-3437ifernandez@cstlawpr.com
Luis R. Ramos Cartagena787-523-3483lramos@cstlawpr.com
Juan C. Nieves González787-523-3478jnieves@cstlawpr.com
Natalia E. del Nido Rodríguez787-523-3481ndelnido@cstlawpr.com
Natalia M. Palmer Cancel787-523-6074npalmer@cstlawpr.com
Cristina B. Fernández Niggemann787-523-6076cfernandez@cstlawpr.com