Earlier this year, the Governor of Puerto Rico signed into law the Labor Transformation and Flexibility Act (“the Act”). While the Act makes substantial changes to virtually all existing Puerto Rico employment laws, it also introduces a new employee right not previously recognized: the right to participate in religious services. Last month, the Secretary of Labor and Human Resources filed Regulation Number 8947 before de Puerto Rico Department of State to implement this new right. The Regulation is set to take effect on May 25, 2017.
Section 2.19 of the Act regulates religious accommodation requests, the process and requirements employees must follow in making such requests, and the legal obligations employers face after their receipt. Specifically, employers must reasonably accommodate the religious practices of the individual.
Under Article VI of the new implementing Regulation, employers must respond in writing to an accommodation request within seven business days. This time period could be shorter depending on the nature of the request. Failure to respond within this period will be understood as a presumption that the employer accepted and granted the request. Furthermore, if the employer intends to deny the request, per Article VII, it must detail in writing the reasons why granting the requested accommodation (or an alternative) constitutes an excessive difficulty. Request denials that are not sufficiently supported will not constitute valid denials. Moreover, if the parties are unable to agree on an accommodation, employees can file a claim with Puerto Rico's Department of Labor and Human Resources to compel the parties to participate in mediation and an administrative process. Finally, failure to reasonably provide religious accommodation requests in violation of Section 2.19 of the Act may result in fines of up to $5,000.
Puerto Rico employers should be aware of these new changes and consider updating their employee handbooks and workplace policies to ensure regulatory compliance.