On March 13, 2020, Puerto Rico's Department of Labor and Human Resources' Secretary, Hon. Briseida Torres Reyes, issued Opinion 2020-01 discussing statutory rights and other applicable measures in light of the coronavirus (COVID-19) emergency.
Key takeaways from Opinion 2020-01:
- The Opinion reaffirms the employer's duty to look after the safety and health of its employees.
- Employers must implement cautionary measures for preventing the spread of COVID-19, consider adopting best practices and enact plans to that end.
- Employers should publish and add to their employment policies the recommendations made by government authorities regarding hygiene.
- Employers may, during this pandemic crisis, require employees to remain away from work should they exhibit any symptoms associated with COVID-19 or if they are at risk of having been exposed to the virus because of having traveled to a location with a high incidence of the virus.
- Employers make take an employee's body temperature provided they secure the employees' advance consent.
- Employers may ask questions about trips, places visited or possible contacts with persons who may pose a risk of contagion.
- Because a pandemic has been declared, employers may request a medical certification before employees can return to work if they exhibit symptoms associated with COVID-19.
- Employers may ask employees if they have experienced symptoms associated with the virus, provided they keep this information confidential.
The Opinion also addresses alternative options employers can consider to safely continue their operations, such as establishing work-from-home policies, changing schedules and providing for flexible hours. Furthermore, the Opinion reiterates applicable rights under Puerto Rico statutes providing employees sick and vacation leaves, and the right to request changes in schedule, number of hours, place where work is to be performed, and make-up time. Employees may be entitled to additional benefits under SINOT,1 workers compensation, catastrophic leave, FMLA, unemployment benefits, etc.
Notably, Opinion 2020-01 explains that sick leave may be used by employees who are sick, disabled or exposed to a contagious disease that will require their absence from work for the employees' own health protection or that of others. The Opinion goes onto state that employees would be entitled to use their sick leave "for any meritorious absence related to COVID-19." Finally, the Opinion cautions employers to abide by all anti-discrimination and retaliation statutes.
1 Seguro de Incapacidad No Ocupacional or Non Occupational Disability Leave, which is essentially the counterpart to workers' compensation. SINOT covers accidents and illnesses that occur outside of the employment.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.