Costa Rica: ¿Se debe pagar el salario a un funcionario sometido a medidas cautelares en un proceso penal?

Last Updated: 17 April 2018
Article by José Luis Campos

Con las investigaciones penales abiertas a funcionarios públicos que han trascendido últimamente, gracias a las que se han dictado medidas cautelares como la prisión preventiva, surge la duda acerca de si estos trabajadores deben o no continuar percibiendo sus salarios, ya que siguen ocupando los respectivos cargos para los que fueron nombrados aunque el proceso penal se esté tramitando.

La discusión lleva ya varios años y ha sido, como en muchos otros temas, la Sala Constitucional la que ha decidido el punto por medio de su jurisprudencia. Debe señalarse, sin embargo, que los criterios de los magistrados constitucionales han tenido un movimiento pendular que trataré de sintetizar en los próximos párrafos.

En un primer momento, la Sala fue de la tesis de cualquier medida cautelar, aunque no fuera la privación de libertad precautoria, que implique la imposibilidad material del trabajador de presentarse a cumplir con sus labores, tenía como consecuencia la exención del pago del salario.
 
Así, por ejemplo, en la sentencia 2000-7547 y más en concreto en la 2002-12087, se expuso la siguiente posición: "Igualmente, conviene tomar en cuenta lo indicado por esta Sala en reiterada jurisprudencia, en cuando a que la prisión preventiva ordenada por los Tribunales Penales en contra de un funcionario público, ocasiona por relación causal la separación del cargo temporalmente y sin goce de salario, por el simple hecho de que la medida cautelar impuesta, impide al trabajador presentarse a laborar, y por ende, la remuneración que recibe por su trabajo también se suspende."

En la misma sentencia, se agrega que "el elemento común que existe entre esa medida cautelar impuesta judicialmente, y la suspensión o separación del cargo, también ordenada en sede jurisdiccional, es la imposibilidad del trabajador de presentarse a laborar, lo que como efecto común producirá, según se explicó, que se suspenda la remuneración que recibe por su trabajo.

Evidentemente, el efecto que produce la decisión judicial en ambos casos, es exactamente el mismo. Distinto sería, por ejemplo, que dentro de la amplia gama de medidas cautelares a imponer, al trabajador se le impusiera la de presentarse a firmar cada quince días al despacho,
situación que en nada imposibilitaría que se presentara a laborar, y por ende, no existiría motivo para dejar de cancelar su salario."

En el 2004, mediante sentencia 2004-07781, la Sala Constitucional cambió su criterio. A partir de entonces, se consideró que solo la prisión preventiva tenía como consecuencia la suspensión sin goce de salario, mientras que las demás medidas cautelares, aunque impidieran al trabajador asistir a sus labores, debían entenderse como una suspensión con goce de sueldo, a menos que el juez de lo penal dijera lo contrario.

En la citada resolución, los magistrados indicaron que "este Tribunal estima que debe revertir su criterio, en el sentido de que si bien en los casos de que el trabajador tenga prohibido asistir a su lugar de trabajo por orden judicial como medida cautelar, la suspensión puede ser con o sin goce de salario, ello debe ser determinado por la misma autoridad judicial que dicta la medida y no por el patrono.

Así las cosas, en aquellos casos en los que la autoridad judicial no haya ordenado que la suspensión laboral es sin goce de salario, deberá entenderse que es con goce de sueldo. El recurrente no se encuentra en prisión preventiva y siendo que la autoridad judicial no ordenó que la suspensión debía ser sin goce de salario, el Consejo recurrido no podía proceder a agravar la situación del amparado disponiendo que no podía percibir remuneración, a pesar de que se encuentra suspendido como medida cautelar en un proceso en el cual no se ha demostrado aún su culpabilidad."

Sin embargo, la posición de la Sala volvió a cambiar en el año 2014, cuando una vez más se retomó el criterio anterior al 2004, en el sentido de que cualquier medida cautelar que impidiera la ejecución de las tareas que el funcionario venía desempeñando, libraba al patrono de la obligación de pago del sueldo.

La sentencia 2014-3966 es clara cuando señala que "por la misma razón por la que, durante la prisión preventiva, no se paga el salario (imposibilidad de asistir al trabajo), tampoco se debe pagar durante el plazo de otra medida cautelar que también impida al trabajador asistir, aunque no necesariamente esté privado de libertad... El error radica en considerar que el Juez Penal impone una sanción administrativa, cuando en realidad lo que hace es imponer medidas cautelares en aras de proteger los fines del proceso penal. Precisamente, la sentencia No. 2004-07781 (y la jurisprudencia posterior de esta Sala) imponen al Juez Penal una función ajena a sus competencia, como lo es determinar si debe o no suspender con goce de salario, cuando en realidad, el interés en sede penal son las consecuencias dentro del mismo proceso y no las circunstancias de la relación laboral."

Este razonamiento de la Sala se ha reiterado en otras sentencias posteriores, y no es esperable un nuevo viraje en el tema del pago salarial a los funcionarios sobre los cuales recaen medidas cautelares, aunque sean distintas a la prisión preventiva, cuando esas medidas les impida seguir cumpliendo las tareas que tenían a cargo antes de la intervención de la autoridad penal.

Nos encontramos ante un muy interesante ejemplo de traslape de regulaciones, concretamente, de lo laboral frente a lo penal, de modo que habrá que seguir prestando atención a los pronunciamientos judiciales que se vayan dando, especialmente en sede constitucional.

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