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Puerto Rico Workplace Law Update: Recent Enactments Increase Compliance Obligations and Liability Risks for Employers

  • November 27, 2006

Recently enacted legislation in Puerto Rico has increased employers’ compliance obligations and liability risks when handling a variety of workplace issues, including employee Social Security numbers, situations involving domestic violence, and time off for breastfeeding mothers.

Signed into law by the Governor on September 27, 2006, Act No. 207 prohibits employers from showing or displaying an employee's Social Security number on identification cards, in places that are visible to the general public, on documents of general circulation, and in employee directories or other similar lists or documents made available to persons with neither the authority nor the need for such employee confidential information, among others. An employee may choose to waive these protections but may not be required to do so as a condition of employment. 

This prohibition against disclosure does not apply if another statute or regulation requires or authorizes the use or disclosure of an employee's SSN, or when used for purposes of identity verification, taxes, and payroll.  However, an employer is required to adopt appropriate measures to maintain the confidentiality of employee Social Security numbers, even when authorized by another statute to use or disclose that information. If it becomes necessary for an employer to disclose or make public a document containing an employee's SSN, the employer must redact the SSN if its disclosure is not required. That redaction will not be considered an alteration of the document's contents for purposes of other statutes that may prohibit such alterations.

Employers which fail to comply with the requirements of Act No. 207 may be subject to fines of not less than $500, and not more than $5,000 per case (presumably per disclosure). 

Another law, Act No. 217 signed on September 29, 2006, requires employers to adopt a "Protocol for Handling Situations of Domestic Violence in the Workplace."   The law requires employers to establish a protocol for use when dealing with an employee situation involving domestic violence. The protocol must contain the following terms, at a minimum: (a) a statement of public policy; (b) legal basis and applicability; (c) the responsibility of employees in applying the protocol; and (d) a procedure and uniform measures to be followed in the handling of cases of domestic violence.  Unfortunately, the statute itself does not provide any further guidance as to what the protocol must contain or when employers must adopt it. Instead, the statute charges the government's Office of Women's Affairs with providing technical advice in the preparation of the protocol.  This Office previously had prepared and issued a protocol for government agencies, and it is unclear whether the same protocol will be extended for use by the private sector.

Amending an existing statute, Act No. 239 increases the amount of paid work time a woman may use either to breastfeed a newborn or to express breast milk. Under the existing Breastfeeding Act, covered employees previously had 30 minutes for that purpose. This extended paid break time may be divided into two, 30-minute periods or three, 20-minute periods.

Act No. 239 exempts those employers considered to be “small businesses” according to the parameters established by the Small Business Administration. For qualifying employers, the daily breastfeeding break remains at 30 minutes, which may be taken in two, 15-minute periods. In addition, Act No. 239 does not alter the tax benefits available to employers which grant breastfeeding leave to their employees.

At this time, additional workplace law measures are pending before the Puerto Rico Legislature, including a bill to increase the minimum wage above federal requirements. Employers with operations in Puerto Rico are advised to stay tuned for further developments.

©2006 Jackson Lewis P.C. This material is provided for informational purposes only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice nor does it create a client-lawyer relationship between Jackson Lewis and any recipient. Recipients should consult with counsel before taking any actions based on the information contained within this material. This material may be considered attorney advertising in some jurisdictions. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.

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