Non-exempt employees in Puerto Rico are entitled to five working days of paid leave if they become infected or are suspected of being infected with COVID-19. Effective immediately upon its April 9, 2020 enactment, the new leave provision amends the Puerto Rico Minimum Salary, Vacation and Sick Leave Act, Act 180-1998, which excludes employees classified as executives, administrators, and professionals.
Employees Must First Exhaust All Other Accrued Leave
Before an employee may be entitled to this new special paid leave, he or she must first exhaust all available accrued sick leave or other accrued leave to which the employee is entitled. In addition, employers must provide this additional paid leave only when an employee is infected, or is suspected of being infected, as a result of a pandemic that triggers a state of emergency declared by either the Governor of Puerto Rico or the Secretary of the Puerto Rico Health Department. It is not available for any other reasons.
No Adverse Employment Actions Due to Special Leave Absences
The new Puerto Rico law specifies that an employee’s use of this special paid leave may not be used as the basis for disciplinary action, such as suspension or termination. Moreover, employers may not count absences taken under this leave negatively when determining pay raises or promotions.
Limiting Employee Exposure Through a Contingency Plan
Another development in Puerto Rico relates to employer requirements for limiting employee exposure to COVID-19 in compliance with Puerto Rico’s Occupational Safety and Health Act. According to April 15, 2020 guidance issued by the Puerto Rico Secretary of the Department of Labor and Human Resources, employers are responsible for establishing adequate controls to limit COVID-19 related risks, which may include physical barriers in the workplace, social distancing, cleaning and disinfecting work areas, limiting the number of employees in the workplace, and providing personal protection equipment.
The guidance states that employers should develop and implement a written contingency plan that evaluates the physical structure and staffing details for each workplace and then establishes the methods by which the employer will minimize risk of employee exposure to COVID-19. If a building or workplace has been closed for a period of time, employers are instructed to follow recommended guidelines on how to maintain healthy interior air quality.
Employers with employees in Puerto Rico should review their policies and practices in light of the new special paid leave requirements and the Department of Labor and Human Resources guidance.
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Information provided on this blog is intended for general educational use. It is not intended to provide legal advice. ReedGroup does not provide legal services. Consult an attorney for legal advice on this or any other topic.