12 January 20234 minute read

Puerto Rico: key takeaways about proposed amendments to Salary Equality Act of 2017

Senate Bill 0976-22 (Bill 976) proposes to amend Puerto Rican Act 16-2017, the Salary Equality Act of Puerto Rico. That Act imposes penalties on employers who discriminate on the basis of sex via salary differences.

Bill 976 seeks to guarantee the vindication of citizens’ rights under Act 16-2017 by providing greater access to the filing of claims in Puerto Rican courts.

If enacted, Bill 976 would implement the following amendments to Act 16-2017:

  • Employers would be exempt from certain penalties pursuant to Act 16-2017 if they evaluated the employee’s performance and corrected any salary discrimination based on sex within 30 days prior to the presentation of an employee’s complaint. At present, under Act 16-2017 employers are exempt from additional penalties if they have made reasonable progress to eliminate sex-based salary discrimination via an evaluation process within the year prior to the presentation of a complaint. See page 3 of Bill 976.
  • Under Bill 976, documents and actions taken during, and the year following, the self-evaluation process related to salary discrimination on the basis of sex would be admissible in court. Currently, that is not the case, so long as the employer demonstrates that it is taking action to correct the salary discrimination. See page 4 of Bill 976.
  • If Bill 976 is enacted, under no circumstances would employers be allowed to ask potential employees about their past and present salaries. Currently, employers may inquire about the applicant’s salaries if the candidate voluntarily offers such information or if the candidate’s salary was negotiated and they were already provided a job offer. See page 5 of Bill 976.
  • Under Bill 976, employers would not be able to prohibit “the disclosure of specific information about the salary and compensation of an unidentified employee who is in the same employment circumstances as an applicant.” See page 5 of Bill 976.
  • Bill 976 would allow plaintiffs to seek compensation for damages in claims filed under Act 16-2017. See page 6 of Bill 976.
  • Under Bill 976, employees or candidates would be able to file claims pursuant to Act 16-2017 before the Puerto Rican Courts of First Instance, without having to exhaust available remedies provided by relevant agencies. See page 9 of Bill 976.
  • Under Act 16-2017, the Secretary of Labor is empowered to file claims against employers in the name of people who have faced discrimination prohibited by said Act. Under Bill 976, the Secretary of Labor would require the discriminated worker’s consent to file such a claim. Once the worker consents, they would be waiving the ability to file a separate claim of their own right. In those cases, the Secretary would not be able to withdraw the claim or reach a settlement agreement without the consent of the discriminated employee or without giving him or her control over the ongoing litigation. See page 9 of Bill 976.
  • Claims filed pursuant to Act 16-2017 could be decided by any of the Courts of First Instance in any of the diverse judicial regions. See page 9 of Bill 976.
  • Under Bill 976, the one-year statute of limitations for claims filed pursuant to Act 16-2017 would not run while a discriminatory salary decision continues in place. Additionally,”[i]n the event that the basis of the judicial claim arises from an investigation carried out by the Department of Labor and Human Resources, the [statute of limitations] will be one year from the date the Department completed its investigation and communicated its findings to the discriminated worker(s).” See page 10 of Bill 976.

Bill 976 originally was presented to the Puerto Rican Senate on August 18, 2022, by Javier Aponte Dalmau (PPD-Carolina), who is the Senate Majority Leader, and co-author Albert Torres Berríos (PPD-Guyama). The bill most recently was discussed at a public hearing held by the Human Rights and Labor Issues Commission in December. We are available to assist your business with any questions regarding this bill. For more information, please contact Janine Guzmán or your DLA Piper relationship attorney.