Puerto Rico Equal Pay Act 16-2017

On March 8, 2017, the Puerto Rico Equal Pay Act, No. 16-2017 became law. It requires equal pay for equal work  to eradicate the existing wage discrimination between employees based on sex. Law 16-2017 adopts the criteria set out in the Equal Pay for Equal Work of 1963, prohibiting gender pay discrimination on comparable work that requires equal skill, effort and responsibilities under similar working conditions.

Law 16-2017 also forbids employers to ask or inquire about applicants’ wages before offering them a job. This is to “ensure that historically lower wages allocated to women are not followed for the rest of their professional lives.” The  law also prescribes as an illegal practice to require – as a condition of employment or as a condition of employment- that an employee or job applicant refrain from asking, discussing, or requesting information about his salary, or the salary of another employee performing comparable work.

The Puerto Rico Equal Pay Act also penalizes any employer that takes adverse  action against an employee that has disclosed his/her salary or questioned or discussed the salary of other employees; or offered information as part of an investigation against the employer for violations to the provisions of the, among other circumstances

In order to measure the effectiveness of the Equal Pay Act, the Secretary of Labor and Human Resources shall prepare- every three (3) years- a statistical study on gender inequity in pay.  Furthermore the Secretary, in coordination with the Office of Women’s Advocacy/Women’s Rights,  must publicize the provisions of the Act, so that employers begin to establish self-evaluation programs and take remedial actions against gender pay discrimination. These self-assessment programs allow the employer to be released from the additional penalty provided by law for those who violate it.

Penalties

Any employee who is discriminated  under the Puerto Rico Equal Pay Act will have the right to collect through civil action the amount left unpaid, to cover the total amount of the salary that was due to him, plus an amount equal to what he no longer receives in  punitive damages plus costs and attorney fees.

Any employer who dismisses, threatens, discriminates against or retaliates against an employee in violation of the Act 16-2017 shall incur civil liability for a sum equal to twice the amount of the damages that the act caused to the employee.

Law 16-2017 shall take effect immediately, but the liability of employers for breaching this Act shall commence one year after its approval to enable them to establish the corrective measures set forth in Article 3. This  article prohibits discrimination in pay and mandates that employers engage in the self-assessment process of  evaluating compensation practices to ” made reasonable progress in eliminating the gender pay gap.”

One important consideration is  that compliance  by employers will depend on whether the Department of Labor does its part. Under Act 16-2017 the Secretary  has to prepare and distribute “the uniform guidelines for self-evaluation programs.”  Self-evaluation programs shall be designed in such a way as to contain reasonable detail and coverage and set clear short-term goals, taking into account the employer’s economic size and resources.