Whistleblowers and Workplace Retaliation

Puerto Rico’s Act No. 115, P.R. Laws Ann. tit. 29, § 194a, prohibits  retaliation in the workplace from whistleblowers;  namely, against employees who provide testimony “before a legislative, administrative or judicial forum”.  This  broad purpose has served claimants to file a wide variety of lawsuits under numerous circumstances including attempts to bolster simple wrongful discharge claims.

The statute at issue, provides in relevant part that: “No employer may discharge, threaten, or discriminate against an employee regarding the terms, conditions, compensation, location, benefits or privileges of the employment should the employee offer or attempt to offer, verbally or in writing, any testimony, expression or information before a legislative, administrative or judicial forum in Puerto Rico, when such expressions are not of a defamatory character nor constitute disclosure of privileged information established by law.”

The statute also imposes an obligation on the employee to establish, “through direct or circumstantial evidence,” a prima facie case that he or she (a) “participated in an activityprotected by §§ 194 et seq.” and (b) “was subsequently discharged.” Id. § 194a(c).

Typical claims under this law include situations in which the employees claims the employer fired the employee after he/she sought workers compensation for a job-related accident; or went to the anti-discrimination unit of the Department of Labor or its wage and hour division.

This act cannot be treated lightly and must be considered every time a decision to discharge a person is being considered. Be aware that  “[t]he employer’s liability regarding the damages and the unearned salaries shall be double the amount determined as having caused the violation” of this provision.  P.R. Laws Ann. tit. 29, § 194a(a), (b).