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Puerto Rico gov’t ends paid COVID-19 leave

When Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Pierluisi recently declared the end of the state of emergency related to the COVID-19 pandemic in Puerto Rico, his executive order also removed a mandate that provided a five-day paid leave to employees who had COVID-19.

During the emergency period, Puerto Rico’s government prioritized efforts to prevent and halt the spread of COVID-19, Executive Order 2023-012 reads, adding that, as a result, the island has seen a continuous reduction in infection, hospitalization and death rates from the virus.

The decision came following the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recent reclassification of COVID-19 from a global emergency to a long-term management issue. 

“Although the pandemic is not over, there is a noticeable reduction in severe cases and deaths due to COVID-19,” WHO stated, emphasizing the need for a shift in approach. Pierluisi echoed the statement, saying it is time for the island to transition from an emergency phase to one of mitigation.

Pierluisi’s declaration also follows a similar move by U.S. President Joseph Biden, who signed a resolution ending the emergency declared due to the COVID-19 pandemic on April 10.

Puerto Rico’s Act 37 of 2020 allowed workers to take up to five additional paid days off after they have used all their sick leave due to a pandemic during a state of emergency. However, employers are no longer mandated to provide this five-day special paid leave to non-exempt employees who have or are suspected of having COVID-19, as was previously required under Act 180 of 1987, which was amended by Act 37-2020. 

The special paid leave was said to become available again if the government or the Department of Health declares a future state of emergency related to a disease or illness.

“The Secretary of the Department of Health retains the power to issue regulations, guidelines, administrative orders, circulars, protocols, and recommendations to address COVID-19,” Pierluisi states in his order. 

The governor expressed gratitude to public officials, particularly those working in public safety and medical institutions, who worked to ensure the health, safety and well-being of the population.

The end of the emergency does not affect existing projects or programs funded by state and federal aid designated for any aspect of the emergency. Pierluisi emphasized that while the state of emergency is lifted, citizens are encouraged to continue adhering to health department guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19, particularly among vulnerable populations.

The governor also highlighted the government’s commitment to continue prevention strategies, epidemiological surveillance and early detection efforts.

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