LABOR & EMPLOYMENT CLIENT ALERT
A. Significant amendments to Puerto Rico’s anti-retaliation statute (“Act 115”)
On September 19, 2014, Governor Alejandro García Padilla signed House Bill 1467 into law, creating Act No. 169 of September 29, 2014 (“Act 169”), which amends Puerto Rico’s anti-retaliation statute, Act No. 115 of December 20, 1991 (“Act 115”). The new changes introduced by Act 169 amend and clarify the definition of “employer” under Law 115, and substantially expand the protection against retaliation afforded to employees under the statute to testimony shared, offered or presented before the employer’s internal proceedings. These new amendments align Act 115 with the anti-retaliation provisions set forth in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
- “Employer” – The amendment provides for a broader, almost all-encompassing definition of employer, which applies equally to all employers (its agents and supervisors), whether public or private in nature, public corporations, or any other type of present or future corporation or organization, whether for-profit or nonprofit, all persons and individuals, including the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and its three branches of government, its public instrumentalities, municipal governments and all municipal corporations and instrumentalities, that have one or more employees and that provide any type of compensation to such employees, whether monetary or not.The definition includes labor organizations (or unions) and other organizations, groups and/or private associations in which employees participate and engage in collective bargaining with employers with respect to the terms and conditions of employment, and employment agencies.
- Prohibition against retaliation – Employer’s internal proceedings includedPrior to this recent amendment, Act 115 prohibited and made it unlawful for an employer to retaliate or take adverse employment action against an employee who engaged or attempted to engage in protected activity under the statute, which included testifying, participating, assisting or offering information –verbal or written- before any legislative, administrative or judicial forum in Puerto Rico. The amendment substantially expanded or broadened the concept of “protected activity” and now protects employees from retaliation for offering testimony, providing or attempting to provide information, or otherwise participating in an internal investigation in the workplace and/or before a company-level forum, or offering this information to any company employee or representative in a position of authority, provided the information or expression is not defamatory or privileged. Act 169 became effective immediately.
B. Amendments to the Puerto Rico Minimum Wage, Vacations and Sick Leave Act (“Law 180”)
Also on September 19, 2014, Governor Alejandro García Padilla signed House Bill 1521 into law, creating Act No. 160 of September 19, 2014 (“Act 160”), introducing significant amendments to Puerto Rico’s Minimum Wage, Vacation and Sick Leave Act, Act No. 180 of July 27, 1998 (“Act 180”). Notably, Act 160 introduces a new civil penalty for any violation to Act 180’s provisions, in addition to the existing criminal penalties. As amended, Act 180 now provides that any individual or person that, acting as an employer or administrator, representative, agent, employee or manager (or supervisor) of an organization, corporation, society, or the like, violates or refuses to comply with the Statute’s provisions, shall incur in civil liability for a sum equal to double the amount of damages that the action has caused the employee. In addition, the amendment establishes that in those cases where the court (or any other trier of the issue or controversy) is unable to determine the amount of pecuniary damages to be awarded to the employee, the court may –at its discretion- impose a penalty for a sum of not less than five hundred dollars ($500.00), but not more than three thousand dollars ($3,000). An employer’s agents and administrators are exposed to this new civil penalty in their individual capacities.
Act 160 also amended Act No. 15 of April 14, 1931, known as the Organic Act of the Department of Labor and Human Resources of Puerto Rico, to enable the Department’s Office of Mediation and Adjudication (“OMA”) to impose the new civil penalty set forth in Act 160.
If you have any questions or concerns, or simply wish additional information regarding the aforementioned amendments, please contact any of the following attorneys from our Practice Group at your convenience:
Juan J. Casillas Ayala
email@example.com | 787-523-3439
Luis F. Llach Zúñiga
firstname.lastname@example.org | 787-523-3496
Angel X. Viera Vargas
email@example.com | 787-523-3466
Israel Fernández Rodríguez
firstname.lastname@example.org | 787-523-3437