By: Yasthel González, Esq. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Employers in Puerto Rico are well aware that federal and local laws prohibit an employer from discriminating against its employees or employment candidates based on their religion. However, employers’ duties not to discriminate based on religion, do not end there. Recently, the religious beliefs-protection was broadened by Act 4 of January 26, 2017, better known as the “Labor Reform”. According to the Labor Reform, employees are entitled to request a reasonable accommodation to pursue their religious beliefs or practices. Religious beliefs include a belief in a superior being, any set of ideas, principles, philosophies, idiosyncrasies, convictions, practices, or membership in an organization or institution of a religious nature.
Employers must be aware that they are required to reasonably accommodate such religious practices, unless the requested accommodation poses an excessive difficulty to the employer. Under the Act, to prove excessive difficulty the employer must demonstrate that the accommodation will require major expenses, creates dangerous conditions or that it impedes the employee from performing his/her job functions. The assumption that other employees with the same religious beliefs may need the same accommodations is not considered an excessive difficulty under the Act.
Our best advice to employers is to process any request for accommodation for religious beliefs with the same sense of urgency as a request for accommodation under the American Disabilities Act (ADA). Failure to respond to a request for accommodation within seven business days creates a presumption that the request was granted by the employer.
An employee may file a complaint against an employer before the Puerto Rico Department of Labor for violations of these provisions, based on a failure to respond to an accommodation request or based on an accommodation denial.
To avoid potential fines and legal claims, have your managers, supervisors and human resources personnel trained regarding the implications of their inactions to requests under these provisions.