Proposed Labor Reform: Worker Must Inform Employer 5 Days in Advance of Attending Religious Service
SAN JUAN – The proposed labor reform may violate the constitutional free exercise of religion because a worker wishing to attend a religious service will be able to take the time off provided he or she informs the employer five days in advance, a lawmaker said Tuesday.
Gov. Ricardo Rosselló introduced a labor reform bill that amends several laws to eliminate the closing law, establish the flexible work schedule, limit overtime pay by redefining work hours, reduce severance payments under the Wrongful Dismissal Act, reduce Christmas bonuses, reduce vacation and sick leave, and redefines the employment contract, among other changes. The proposed law will affect private sector employees who receive hourly wages but, for the most part, not those who are already working.
Article 2.19 of the proposed law, titled “Right to participate in Religious Service” provides that “every employee who because of religious beliefs must attend a religious service during Good Friday, Easter Sunday, Thanksgiving, Dec. 25, Jan. 6, Jan. 1 or any Sunday from 5 a.m. to 12 p.m. will be entitled to take the necessary time for such purposes. The employee who is going to make use of this right, must notify his [or her] employer at least five days in advance, so that the employer can make the needed adjustments in the work schedule,” the measure says.
If the employee exercises the right to attend a religious service at different times from the days and hours granted, he or she must also notify [his or her] employer at least five days in advance so the employer can make the necessary arrangements.
“In the event an employee does not make the notification within the [five-day] period, the employer’s refusal to allow [him or her] to attend the religious service will not result in any penalty,” the measure reads. “No employer may penalize, prejudice or, in any way, refuse to allow an employee to participate in or attend any religious service on the appointed days,” it adds.
Any violation to the law will lead to an administrative fine of no less than $5,000 and no more than $10,000 against the employer, according to the proposed law.
Puerto Rican Independence Party Rep. Denis Márquez argued that that particular disposition of the labor reform could violate the constitutional religious freedom protection because employees would have to inform their employer about their religious beliefs on their free time. “This could violate the freedom to worship,” he said.
It was also alleged that in employer-employee relations, the employer always has control, so an employee may feel uncomfortable about going to a religious service without notifying his employer first as required by law.