Puerto Rico Supreme Court Workplace Privacy Decision:
INDULAC v. Central General de Trabajadores, 2021 TSPR 78 (6/4/2021)
by Guillermo Figueroa, Esq.
On June 29, 2015, INDULAC terminated Mr. Victor Vargas Taveras for surreptitiously installing a surveillance device in coworker’s office. According to INDULAC, Mr. Vargas, not only failed to comply with the Company’s rules and polices, but also infringed the other employee’s constitutional right to privacy, while also incurring in harassment. The Union brought forth a Claim on behalf of Mr. Vargas, before the Puerto Rico Conciliation and Arbitration Bureau of the Department of Labor, alleging wrongful discharge. On November 6, 2017, the Conciliation and Arbitration Bureau issued an Arbitration Award stating the Mr. Vargas was discharged without just cause. The Bureau ordered reinstatement to employment, as well as backpay.
The Company challenged the abovementioned Arbitration Award. INDULAC filed a Writ of Certiorari before the Puerto Rico Supreme Court asserting, among others, that the Arbitration Award was contrary to prevailing law, null, void and ineffective. Authorized by Court, the Women’s Advocate of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico joined as Amicus Curiae sustaining that this was a case of high public interest. It also argued that the appealed forums acted in contravention to public policy since installing a hidden camera in a coworker’s workspace is not just an act stalking, but a violation of privacy and human dignity.
On June 4, 2021, the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico revoked the Arbitration Award. It reasoned that violating the constitutionally protected right of privacy of a coworker is sufficient for dismissal on first offense, under PR Act No. 80 of May 30, 1976, 29 LPRA §§ 185(a) et seq.
The Supreme Court determined that, undoubtedly, employees have a legitimate right to privacy in their workplace, which society is willing to recognize since the place of employment is where most citizens spend a large part of their lives. Furthermore, when it comes to office space, employees harbor a greater expectation of privacy since it is an area that gathers intimate characteristics of the employee and holds personal aspects. Consequently, it constitutes a clear violation of privacy to allow an employee to install a surveillance camera in a coworker’s office for surreptitious onlooking.