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Justice says labor reform doesn’t affect employees in unjustified dismissals

By on January 26, 2017

SAN JUAN – Although the labor reform signed into law Thursday by Gov. Ricardo Rosselló does not include language specifying that the burden of proof in unjustified dismissals falls on the employer, that was the intention of the bill and is the existing jurisprudence in that kind of case, Justice Secretary Wanda Vázquez said in an opinión issued Tuesday at the governor’s request and which Caribbean Business obtained.

“The legislative history and debates cited clearly show that the legislative intention was to maintain the presumption of unjustified dismissal against employers and to remove the burden of proof from the employee. The evidence and incidents presented do not allow room for another interpretation,” Vázquez said in her seven-page brief.

The Justice secretary explained in the document that, although the labor reform initially established that the burden of proof would be on the employee, during the legislative process, the House made it clear that this was deleted because “it does provide a balance between the employee’s rights and the employer” within Act 80 of unjustified dismissal.

Designated Justice Secretary Wanda Vázquez was committed to continue investigating the murder of Carlos Muñiz Varela, as well as pursuing a holistic approach against drugs. (Cindy Burgos/CB)

Justice Secretary Wanda Vázquez (Cindy Burgos/CB)

Similarly, she stressed that in the past the Supreme Court has settled cases imposing the burden of proof on the employer based not only on Article 11 of Act 80, which was amended in the labor reform, but also with other parts of the legislation.

“Our highest court ruled that the employer has the burden of proving, in all cases of claims for unjustified dismissal, that the action was framed in one of the justifications expressly contemplated by [Act 80]. According to this analysis, we understand that the bill retains its social purpose in relation to this matter that it is the employer who has to prove if the dismissal was justified. Making another interpretation would lead to an unfair outcome,” Vázquez insisted.

It was Rep. Manuel Natal, of the Popular Democratic Party (PDP), and lawyer and analyst Luis Balbino Arroyo who sounded an alarm about the elimination of this item in the labor reform and its amendments to Act 80, indicating that it could result in cases of unjustified dismissal resorting to the general rules of civil procedure, which establish that the plaintiff has the burden of proof.

Both stated that not including this paragraph would make it more difficult to take a case for unjustified dismissal because for the employee it would be almost impossible to prove. It would also affect the work of labor attorneys, Arroyo said.

Ramón Rosario, La Fortaleza’s public affairs secretary, Arroyo and Natal “are wrong” and he challenged them to take a case of unfair dismissal to court to corroborate that the burden of proof will continue to fall on the employer, as stated in the Justice Department opinion.

“In the bill filed [by the governor] it was stated that the employee had to carry the burden of proof. But the president of the Labor Affairs Commission, Ángel Peña, in discussion with the governor, decided to eliminate that part so the employer has the burden of proof,” Rosario said.

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