A recent opinion by the Puerto Rico Supreme Court discusses several business and economic conditions that makes it lawfully to fire an employee under the Wrongful Discharge Act No. 80.
In the case of Zapata v J.F. Montalvo Cash & Carry, Inc. , August 27, 2013 , the Court held that the employer had shown a valid business reason to discharge Zapata even though after his discharge the company hired others and awarded performance bonuses.
There are two sets of reasons that make a discharge lawful in Puerto Rico. One relates to employee misconduct and the other to economic/business reasons; the latter are discussed in the Zapata case.
Business reasons under Act No. 80 are certain specific circumstances of an economic nature that may arise in the daily operation of an organization which involve the termination of employment. In such cases, employers are under no obligation to pay severance compensation.
These circumstances occur within three major scenarios:
1. Closings: A total, temporary or partial closure of operations.
2. Reorganizations: Technological changes or reorganization , as well as changes in style, quality or nature of the product being produced or handled by the establishment .
3. Reduced economic activity that require reductions in the number of employees. Reduced economic activity includes a decline (actual or anticipated) in sales volume, production or profits.
Not all changes or reductions in activity justify a dismissal . The magnitude must be meaningful to such a degree as to threaten the stability and solvency of the business.
In all three scenarios terminations must be based on economic/business reasons directly related to the viability of the business and / or its components , and to address issues concerning the welfare of business management and the fiscal health of the company.
Given that an employer has the burden to show that the discharge was for just cause, it must present evidence of a reorganization plan, its implementation and usefulness; the alleged decline in production , sales or profits, as appropriate; and demonstrate that these circumstances required the layoff.