Advertisement

July 22, 2014

Puerto Rico Legislature Approves Bill Prohibiting ‘Workplace Bullying’ or ‘Workplace Harassment’

The stage is set for Puerto Rico to become the first U.S. jurisdiction to statutorily address “workplace bullying” or “workplace harassment” (sometimes known as “mobbing”), with potentially costly consequences for employers. It is now up to the Governor of Puerto Rico to decide whether to approve or veto the proposed legislation.

On June 3, 2014, the Puerto Rico Senate and House of Representatives approved a final version of Senate Bill 501, “Law to Prohibit and Prevent Workplace Harassment in Puerto Rico.” The stated purpose of SB 501 is to prohibit and prevent conduct in the workplace, unrelated to a protected category of the employee or retaliation under existing anti-discrimination laws, that nevertheless creates a “hostile, intimidating, humiliating, and offensive atmosphere.” Key provisions of the bill are discussed below.

Workplace Harassment

SB 501 defines “workplace harassment” as: 

ill-intended, unwelcome, repetitive conduct, whether it be verbal, written or physical, on behalf of the employer, its supervisors or employees, distinct from the legitimate business interests of the company, that creates a hostile, intimidating, humiliating, and offensive atmosphere, impedes the healthy tenure of the employee in the workplace, that can bring scorn, belittle or professionally destroy the employee, and that threatens his/her constitutionally protected rights, including his/her dignity. 

The proposal also provides a list of conduct considered “workplace harassment.” This conduct includes: 

  • slanderous and harmful expressions about a person, using foul language; 

  • hostile and humiliating comments of professional incompetence in the presence of co-workers; 

  • unjustified threats of termination stated in the presence of co-workers; 

  • frivolous disciplinary actions; 

  • humiliating rejection of work proposals or opinions; 

  • public comments or jokes directed to the employee about physical appearance or the manner of dress; 

  • public references to private, personal or family matters related to the affected employee; 

  • assigning work functions clearly unrelated to employment obligations; and 

  • a refusal to provide information or materials pertinent and indispensable to fulfill the employment obligations.

The bill also lists conduct that shall not be considered “workplace harassment.” These include: 

  • executing disciplinary authority; 

  • conduct geared towards protecting confidentiality; 

  • creation and promotion of regulations or memorandums to direct the operation, maximize efficiency and employment evaluations related to the general objectives of the employer; 

  • requests to comply with additional functions when it is necessary for the continuity of services or to resolve difficult situations in the employer’s operation or services; and 

  • an employer’s affirmative actions to comply with the obligations, duties and prohibitions required by or imposed by law, among others.

Investigation and Prevention Mechanism 

SB 501 creates an obligation for employers to adopt and implement internal policies to prevent, dissuade, and avoid workplace harassment, as well as to investigate allegations and impose sanctions in appropriate cases. It also imposes a posting requirement of the contents of the law.

SB 501 would further impose responsibility upon employers for supervisor conduct that constitutes workplace harassment, unless the employer can establish that it took immediate and appropriate action to remedy the situation the moment it knew of the harassment. The bill also imposes responsibility upon the employer for acts of workplace harassment on its employees by non-employees, if the employer knew of the conduct and did not take immediate and appropriate action to correct the situation.

Anti-Retaliation Provision

SB 501 creates a cause of action for retaliation under Puerto Rico’s anti-retaliation in employment statute (Act 115 of December 20, 1991) for reporting or complaining of acts of workplace harassment and being subjected to an adverse employment action as a result of said complaints.

Procedures

Unlike most other employment legislation in Puerto Rico, the bill establishes an exhaustion requirement. Employees must first channel complaints through internal complaint mechanisms established by the employer. If those are unsuccessful, then the employee must turn to the Bureau of Alternate Dispute Resolution of the Judicial Branch. If mediation is unsuccessful or not recommended, then the employee may file the corresponding judicial action.

Remedies 

Under SB 501, private employers who are found liable will be held responsible for compensatory damages suffered by the employee. Moreover, any damages awarded will be doubled automatically. 

Reinstatement, back pay, and injunctive relief are the only available remedies in actions against the government.

Jackson Lewis P.C. © 2014

About the Author

Maralyssa Álvarez-Sánchez, Jackson lewis law firm, labor employment attorney
Of Counsel

Maralyssa Álvarez-Sánchez is an Of Counsel in the San Juan office of Jackson Lewis LLC.

Ms. Álvarez-Sánchez counsels employers on compliance with state and federal employment laws in executing personnel decisions and defends employers in all stages of litigation in discrimination, retaliation, sexual harassment, reasonable accommodation, unjust dismissal and leave-related claims in federal and state judicial and administrative forums

787-522-7305

Boost: AJAX core statistics

Legal Disclaimer

You are responsible for reading, understanding and agreeing to the National Law Review's (NLR’s) and the National Law Forum LLC's  Terms of Use and Privacy Policy before using the National Law Review website. The National Law Review is a free to use, no-log in database of legal and business articles. The content and links on www.NatLawReview.com are intended for general information purposes only. Any legal analysis, legislative updates or other content and links should not be construed as legal or professional advice or a substitute for such advice. No attorney-client or confidential relationship is formed by the transmission of information between you and the National Law Review website or any of the law firms, attorneys or other professionals or organizations who include content on the National Law Review website. If you require legal or professional advice, kindly contact an attorney or other suitable professional advisor.  

Some states have laws and ethical rules regarding solicitation and advertisement practices by attorneys and/or other professionals. The National Law Review is not a law firm nor is www.NatLawReview.com  intended to be  a referral service for attorneys and/or other professionals. The NLR does not wish, nor does it intend, to solicit the business of anyone or to refer anyone to an attorney or other professional.  NLR does not answer legal questions nor will we refer you to an attorney or other professional if you request such information from us. 

Under certain state laws the following statements may be required on this website and we have included them in order to be in full compliance with these rules. The choice of a lawyer or other professional is an important decision and should not be based solely upon advertisements. Attorney Advertising Notice: Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. Statement in compliance with Texas Rules of Professional Conduct. Unless otherwise noted, attorneys are not certified by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, nor can NLR attest to the accuracy of any notation of Legal Specialization or other Professional Credentials.

The National Law Review - National Law Forum LLC 4700 Gilbert Ave. Suite 47 #230 Western Springs, IL 60558  Telephone  (708) 357-3317 If you would ike to contact us via email please click here.