Puerto Rico amended its workplace sexual harassment law to extend protection coverage to interns, as well as to require employers to adopt specific protocols and procedures to address and investigate instances of workplace sexual harassment. Employers should update their harassment policies accordingly as soon as possible, as the changes take effect immediately.
The amendments (Act 82) change the definition of employee under the law to now include internship participants – including those that are unpaid. Accordingly, interns, paid or not, are now protected under the law from workplace sexual harassment.
Act 82 also creates new protocol compliance requirements for employers. Specifically, employers are now required to create certain and enforce workplace sexual harassment policies and protocols. Employers can comply with these requirements by simply adopting a model protocol to be developed by the Puerto Rico Department of Labor and Human Resources (PRDOL). If employers opt to create their own protocols, to comply with the new amendments, such protocols must include at minimum:
- A statement expressing the illegality of workplace sexual harassment;
- Relevant law;
- Its purpose, including a zero tolerance policy;
- The person designated with handling sexual harassment complaints and allegations, their duties, and information on how to submit complaints to that designated person;
- Who can file a sexual harassment complaint, and the process for doing so;
- Confidentiality provisions;
- An anti-retaliation statement;
- Examples of prohibited conduct;
- Process for designating the investigative entity that will adjudicate the compliant;
- Other possible legal remedies and forums; and
- Complaint form to be used for reporting sexual harassment allegations.
The amendments also provide for the creation of an online portal for filing complaints and for offering further resources regarding sexual harassment in the workplace and related protections.
Outlook: Act 82 took immediate effect after being signed into law by Puerto Rico Governor Pedro Pierluisi in late September. Accordingly, employers with operations in Puerto Rico should update their workplace sexual harassment policies where necessary in order to ensure compliance with the new changes.