Following the Industrial Revolution of the Nineteenth Century, the federal government of the United States pursued the enactment of various laws to protect the rights of individual laborers.
This was primarily spawned at the insistence of labor unions, which were legalized in the same time period. Throughout the following century, a number of revisions and improvements were made upon these laws, to the point where at the present individual workers enjoy the full legal protections of the United States government at their places of employment.
These federal statutes cover all areas from age discrimination to discrimination against those with disabilities. One major statute is based on Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate against a worker on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.
This applies to not only treatment on the job, but to all aspects of the employment process, including hiring, promotion, discharge, pay, fringe benefits, job training, classification, and referral.
Employers are prohibited from showing preference while advertising or recruiting. For example, an employer may not post advertisements for a position that are tailored exclusively to a particular gender, or insinuate during the hiring process that individuals fitting a certain description are more likely to be hired. (Department of Labor.)
Falling under the same statute, employers cannot dismiss an employee for any of the above classifications, and cannot pay less on the basis of gender, race, etc. This was a common practice before the creation of such protections, as in many circumstances women were paid much less for working the same jobs that men were being paid much higher to complete.
In addition to this, the federal statutes prohibit child labor, which means in most states that workers under the ages of 18 or 16 are subject to certain restrictions in the number of hours a week they may work, and other aspects of working the job including the use of tools and operation of machinery. (Department of Labor.)
As well, Title I of the Americans With Disabilities Act prohibits employers of fifteen or more employees to discriminate against qualified individuals with disabilities.
This law is inapplicable in some circumstances. Obviously, if an individual is disabled in such a way so as to make them wholly unable to perform the duties of a given job, it is not considered discrimination for the employer to refuse to hire them. However, in some cases involving minor mental illness, where individuals are still able to adequately perform the function of a job, which may or may not require less skill, employers are not permitted to discriminate on the basis of the disability, and are subject to being penalized if they are discovered doing so. (Andrade.)
The federal government left some areas of employment protection to be decided by the individual states. One example of this is minimum wage. Though there is a fairly low standard of minimum wage established by the federal government, individual states may establish a higher minimum wage. In the case of Puerto Rico, the minimum wage is $5.15 per hour worked, though over the summer of 2006 members of the House of Representatives introduced legislation to raise this minimum wage to $5.40.
This minimum wage only applies to employers who are covered by the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Employers not covered by the FLSA may pay their workers much lower rates, close to $3.00 per hour. (Department of Labor.)
Even so, Puerto Rico is said to have some of the most strictly regulated labor laws within United States jurisdiction. This is due in part to highly successful labor movements within the territory. All federal statutes regarding labor apply to states, and this includes territories such as Puerto Rico. If these regulations are not followed, the Department of Labor will intervene in some manner and enforce the law. At a minimum, Puerto Rican labor laws must comply with the labor laws established by the federal government of the United States. (Andrade.)
In some areas, Puerto Rico has gone above and beyond the minimum established standards. As mentioned, the House of Representatives has made an effort to raise the minimum wage. As well, the territory has established the Puerto Rico Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which enforces the Occupational Safety and Health Act of Puerto Rico (OSHA).
Among other things, this act guarantees to each employee in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico “safe and healthful working conditions”. Employers must ensure that each employee has a job and jobsite free of hazards which may cause death or physical injury. (Constitution of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico; Serrano.)
Employers must also obey all occupational safety and health standards, and any rules or regulations that are applicable to the worksite. This includes federal statutes, as well as Puerto Rican laws.
This is enforced through the use of inspections, which are conducted on the basis of priority in the following order: imminent danger, fatalities/catastrophes investigations, complaint/referral investigations, programmed inspections, and follow-up inspections to ensure that any necessary modifications have been carried out by the employer. An additional measure established a Boiler and Elevator Inspection Program, the title of which is self-explanatory.
In this program, inspectors ascertain the safety of boilers and elevators on jobsites, judging all aspects including manufacture, installment, and safe operation. These measures, while adopted by several other states, are not specifically enforced or provided by the federal government.
Contrary to the bad reputation that many labor sites outside of the continental United States have earned, Puerto Rico vigorously follows federal standards of employment protection, and has made initiatives to improve upon the federal model. With a decent minimum wage, laws promoting safe workplaces, and an administration in place that actively inspects employers to ensure the enforcement of these laws, Puerto Rico has been deemed by many to be a safe, profitable place for laborers to work.
Andrade, N (2006, October 4). Puerto Rico-State-Labor Law Center Blog. Retrieved October
6, 2006, from Labor Law Center Web site: http://blog.laborlawcenter.com/category/state/puerto-rico
Author Unknown, (2006). Constitution of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. Retrieved October
6, 2006, from ToPuertoRico.org Web site: http://www.topuertorico.org/constitu.shtml
Author Unknown, Puerto Rico State Information Page. Retrieved October 6, 2006, from U.S.
Department of Labor Web site: http://www.osha.gov/oshdir/stateprogs/Puerto_Rico.html
Serrano, M, Labor Laws Weigh Heavily on Puerto Rico’s Employers. (2005, August 25). Puerto
Rico Herald, http://www.puertorico-herald.org/issues2/2005/ vol09n34/ CBLaborLaws.shtml
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