Governor Signs Laws Amending Two Employment Statutes

Governor signs laws amending two employment statutes to expand scope of protected activity in retaliation cases and remedies available for violations to the local vacation and leave statute

In line with what promises to be a reiterated pattern of complicating  the already difficult and challenging employment environment in the Island, on September 29, 2014 the Governor signed Laws 169 and 160, expanding employees’ anti retaliation rights and the remedies available under the local vacation and sick leave statute.

First, by signing Law 169 of 2014, the scope of protected activity under Law 115 of 1991, Puerto Rico’s Anti-Retaliation in Employment Act, which protects an employee who offers testimony or intends to offer, any testimony, expression, or information before a legislative, judicial or administrative forum, was expanded to protect testimony, expressions, and information, offered or attempted to be offered through internal company procedures. These new amendment also protects testimony before any employee or before a representative in a position of authority.   Law 115 specifically prohibits retaliatory acts such as termination, threats or any other discrimination related to the terms, conditions of employment, compensation, benefits, or employment privileges and provides remedies such as emotional damages, lost wages and benefits, a penalty equivalent to the damages incurred, reinstatement and attorneys’ fees.

Second, by expanding the scope of protected activity to intercompany procedures, virtually any complaint by the employee or even open door sessions may be used as basis for including an additional cause of action of retaliation under Law 115 to a wrongful termination claim under Law 80 under which the employee is only entitled to a severance payment and attorneys’ fees without a right to damages or reinstatement.  Hence, it is important for companies to review their existing procedures and train their personnel on effectively managing their internal procedures to comply with this newest amendment to Law 115 and avoid further exposure in termination and discrimination claims.

Moreover, Law 160 of 2014, was enacted to amend the Puerto Rico Vacation and Sick Pay Act, Law 180 of July 27, 1998, to expand the remedies available under said law and provide for double damages in certain instances that previously did not entail any penalty whatsoever under Law 180.    As a result of the amendments made through Law 160, an employee will now be entitled to double damages if an employer (1) fails to allow an employee to take vacation leave consecutively for at least, five consecutive working days during the year, (2) liquidates accumulated vacation leave in excess of ten days without the written request of the employee or (3) allows an employee to accumulate up to two years of vacation leave without an agreement with the employee, among other specific prohibitions. Finally, the law was amended to give jurisdiction to disputes pertaining to the Act to the Office of Mediation and Adjudication of the Department of Labor (OMA).

With the expanded scope of penalties available under Law 180 as a result of the aforementioned amendment, it is important for employers to review their existing policies and practices to ensure compliance in the management of vacation time.

If you have any questions about or wish to discuss how we can assist on complying with this new legislation, feel free to contact the Chair of our Labor & Employment Practice, Gerardo J. Hernandez at at your convenience.