New Covid-19 Protocol for Employers – Puerto Rico
By: Angel Berberena, Esq.
Romel Meléndez, Esq
November 3, 2021
The Department of Health of Puerto Rico recently published its Protocol for the Management of COVID-19 Cases in the Workplace. The Protocol provides specific guidelines on how to manage a variety of scenarios in the workplace based on current guides and/or regulations issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”); the Centers for Disease Control (“CDC”); Executives Orders by the Governor of Puerto Rico; and Administrative Orders by the Secretary of the Department of Health of Puerto Rico.
This Protocol should be the first reference tool when facing workplace issues related to the virus. However, preexisting guidelines and executive/administrate orders are required to provide additional details and context to the Protocol. Below is a summary of its most relevant provisions:
Employees working in the following industries/sectors/businesses are required to be fully vaccinated: i) health sector including hospitals, laboratories, emergency rooms, clinics, health centers, medical offices, therapy centers, blood banks, pharmacies, elder care facilities, medicinal cannabis dispensaries, and others; ii) food service including restaurants, supermarkets, coffee shops, bars, movie theaters, casinos, gas stations, and others; iii) hotels, hostels, or inns; iv) beauty salons, barbershops, spa, and gyms; and v) childcare centers.
There are only three exemptions to the vaccination requirement: i) immunocompromised employees, ii) medically contraindications, or iii) religious reasons. Each of these exemptions have very specific and formal requirements and once exempted, employees are required to provide weekly negative viral test results.
Regardless of the industry, the Protocol encourages all employers to require all employees to be fully vaccinated.
Universal use of Face Masks
As per AO 2021-512, all persons in public or private closed spaces, regardless of the individual’s vaccination status, are required to use face masks. The use of face masks is also required, regardless of vaccination status, while in open spaces (e.g., parks, sidewalks, beaches) if the persons are unable to keep a social distance of 6 feet.
COVID-19 Cases in the Workplace
Employers must require and instruct employees to immediately notify supervisors if a COVID-19 test is positive, they have symptoms, or were exposed to the virus. In these instances:
- The employee should stay home.
- Employees with COVID-19 should not return to the workplace until they complete the requirements to end isolation or quarantine period.
- Employees with COVID-19 symptoms or that become sick during the work shift, must be immediately removed from the workplace and sent home.
- Employees that are not sick but were in close contact with a person that tested positive must be quarantined. The duration of the quarantine will vary depending on the vaccination status of the employee.
- Fully vaccinated employees must complete a 7-day quarantine period. The employee must take a COVID-19 test 5 days after the contact and is able to work on the 8th day if the test result is negative.
- Employees that are not fully vaccinated must complete a 14-day quarantine period.
Employers must continue to report COVID-19 cases to the Department of Health via email at [email protected].
Return to Work after COVID-19
Employees with confirmed or symptomatic cases may return to work if: i) 10 days have passed since symptoms first appeared; ii) at least 24 hours have passed since last fever without the use of fever-reducing medication; and iii) symptoms (e.g., cough, headache, shortness of breath, etc.) have improved.
Employees with confirmed but asymptomatic cases may return to work if at least 10 days have passed since the date of their first positive viral diagnostic test.
Employers cannot require a negative test result as a condition to return to work.
Additional Cautionary Measures
Employers are expected to continue following the additional cautionary measures established in AO 2021-508A, including: i) promote frequent and effective handwashing habits; ii) provide time off to receive vaccinations; iii) instruct infected or exposed employees to not report to work; iv) implement social distancing; v) educate the workforce; vi) require employees, clients and visitors to use face masks; vii) provide adequate ventilation systems; viii) perform routine cleaning and disinfection by following the CDC’s recommendations on Cleaning and Disinfecting Your Facility and to the use EPA’s List N: Disinfectants for Coronavirus (COVID-19).
Goldman Antonetti & Córdova, LLC stands ready to assist you and your business to adjust to Puerto Rico’s regulatory and legal changes. If you need further assistance in this area, please contact any of the following members of our Firm:
Disclaimer: Although the information included in this document may concern legal issues, it is not a legal opinion or professional advice and clients shall not use it as such. We assume no responsibility or liability of any kind for any information contained herein, and we expressly disclaim all liability for any claim for damages arising from the use, reference to, or reliance on, such information. If legal or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought.