On June 1, 2020, Puerto Rico Governor Hon. Wanda Vázquez-Garced signed into law Act No. 56-2020, amending the Puerto Rico Workers' Accident Compensation Act (Act No. 45-1935) to extend workers' compensation insurance coverage to certain employees who get infected with COVID-19 while performing their duties.
The Puerto Rico Compensation System for Work-Related Accidents Act (Act No. 45 of April 18, 1935, as amended) grants immunity to insured employers from any damages resulting from an employee's work-related accident and provides leave and reinstatement rights after a work-related disability. Act No. 45 conditions immunity on the employer's insuring its employees and all risks associated with its operations under a compulsory insurance system that covers employees' work-related accidents or illnesses. The rates vary according to the type of labor the employee performs.
This insurance, which is entirely employer-funded, is administered and can only be provided by the State Insurance Fund (SIF). Under Puerto Rico's workers' compensation scheme, however, if a work-related accident occurs and the employer is uninsured, there is no immunity and, thus, the SIF will seek reimbursement from the uninsured employer for any compensation plus medical expenses the SIF incurred. The employee may also file an action against their employer to recover damages.
In light of the current pandemic, Act No. 45 has been amended to extend the coverage of the SIF benefits to those state, municipal, private or public sector employees who get infected with COVID-19 during the performance of their duties as doctors, nurses, paramedics or any other health professional in medical offices, hospitals, diagnostic and treatment centers or any other medical facility. This protection is also extended to laboratory employees; caregivers at senior centers; police, firefighters, state and municipal rescue and emergency personnel; and any other personnel that the SIF Administrator deems to have been particularly exposed to COVID-19 as a result of the risks associated with the employee's functions. Of particular interest is the Act's extension of immunity to other employees who establish reliably and in accordance with the particular circumstances of each case that the virus infection occurred while performing the tasks inherent to their employment even if the employee does not work in one of the above job categories.
Originally published June 4, 2020
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