Oftentimes, employers have to deal with the difficult task of determining how to manage the always delicate situation involving the arrest of an employee. While the matter is easier to handle when the criminal act occurs in the employer’s premises or involves company property, the situation becomes much more difficult when it is unrelated to work. Especially in Puerto Rico, where caselaw has afforded certain protections to employees who have prior convictions and all terminations are required to be with just cause, employers must proceed with caution.
On April 25, 2019, in the case of González Santiago v. Baxter Healthcare of P.R., 2019 TSPR 79, the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico, in an Opinion by Chief Judge Oronoz, ruled that a suspension in excess of ninety (90) days, which is considered a termination under the Puerto Rico wrongful termination statute, to await the outcome of criminal felony charges, constituted just cause for termination.
In the case in question, an employee who had worked for the company in excess of 15 years was accused of several charges of lewd and lascivious behavior towards a minor and was suspended by the employer pending the outcome of the charges. Once he was found guilty, he was terminated. The Court, in its majority opinion ruled that the employer was not obligated to presume the employee’s innocence and concluded that said action by the employer was a reasonable decision to maintain the good and normal functioning of the business. A key factor in the Court’s decision was the serious nature of the charges and the potential for placing at risk the safety, order and efficiency of the business. Since the handling of this type of situations involve a fact-intensive analysis, we strongly suggest you involve legal counsel in the decision-making process.
For additional information please contact attorney Gerardo Hernández ([email protected]).