Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States. The U.S. has federal laws that apply to all states and territories, as well as laws for territories which are different from the laws for the states — and even the other territories. In addition, under the 10th amendment, states have their own laws for anything not covered in the Constitution. Puerto Rico has its own laws, too, although Congress has more power to c change Puerto Rico’s laws than it has for states.

It’s a complicated situation. One example is hiring practices in Puerto Rico.

Hiring laws in Puerto Rico

There have been changes in laws about hiring people in the Island recently. Here are some current laws:

  • The Puerto Rico Equal Pay Act says that employers can’t ask about an applicant’s pay in a current or former job, unless there applicant volunteers the information or offers the applicant a job and has already negotiated a wage.
  • The Puerto Rico Constitution includes provisions protecting human dignity and privacy. Article II, section 1 says, ‘The dignity of the human being is inviolable” and section 8 says “Every person has the right to the protection of the law against abusive attacks on his honour, reputation and private or family life.”
  •  US federal law says employers may not require an applicant or employee to provide information regarding their genetic record, medical history or disability. This is true for Puerto Rico as well.
  • Puerto Rico Law No. 59 of 8 August 1997 (the Act to Regulate Controlled Substances Detection Testing in the Private Work Sector) allows employers to develop random drug testing programs. Under this law, controlled substances include drugs covered by the Controlled Substances Act of Puerto Rico or federal laws.
  • Employers can also require drug testing when there is a good reason to believe that a worker is using drugs or when an accident has taken place. Testing of all employees can be done as part of a medical exam requirement for all workers. This is also part of Law 59.
  • Temporary employment contracts are allowed in Puerto Rico under Law No. 4. Written temporary agreements were required before this law, but the new rules have greater flexibility.

How does this compare with states?

The U.S. Constitution does not cover most of these points. That means that they are up to the states to decide. For example, Alaska allows drug testing of all applicants for jobs, and employers may refuse to hire someone who will not take a drug test. Arizona’s law is similar, but applicants must be given a copy of the company’s drug use policy before being tested. Arkansas has no state laws on the subject of state testing; employers must follow any federal laws, but otherwise they can do whatever they want.

We could go through the alphabet here and examine all the relevant laws in every state and we would see that they are all different. There is a federal legal definition of a temporary worker, for example, saying that they must be in the same job for one year or less. Otherwise, specifics of temporary work contracts are up to the state.

How is this different for Puerto Rico?

Since Puerto Rico is a territory, it is subject to the Territory Clause of the Constitution, which says that Congress can make “all needful rules” for territories. Congress, in other words, has more control over the laws of Puerto Rico than it has over the laws of states.

In addition, since laws are made by votes in Congress and Puerto Rico has very limited representation in Congress, Puerto Rico has very limited power over federal laws. Most of the time, Puerto Rico is not consulted before federal laws are made, even though the laws apply to Puerto Rico just as much as to states.

As a state, Puerto Rico will have sovereignty and power equal to all the current states. The Island will have more power over its laws, more flexibility, and more freedom in its economy than it can have as a territory. This is one of the most important reasons that most voters in Puerto Rico want statehood. Contact your congressional reps and ask them to show up on the right side of history this year, supporting Puerto Rico’s right to a permanent, non-colonial political status: statehood.



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