Labor Procedure Reform Law Makes Sweeping Changes To Labor Code

Author:Ms Anna Karina Jiménez and Daniel Rodríguez

On July 25, 2017, Costa Rica's Labor Procedure Reform (Reforma Procesal Laboral or RPL) Law No. 9343 became effective. Despite its name, the law amended not only the procedural part of the country's Labor Code, but also the collective bargaining law and individual labor law governing the employer-employee relationship—348 articles of the Labor Code in total, or nearly half of the country's labor and employment laws.

Obtaining approval of the RPL was a long and difficult slog. In September 2012, lawmakers approved a version of the RPL dating back to 2000. A month later, former Costa Rica President Laura Chinchilla vetoed the law—only to withdraw the veto in May 2013.

A year and a half later, in December 2014, current President Luis Guillermo Solís lifted the veto. In August 2015, the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court declared both Chinchilla's withdrawal of the veto and Solís' lifting of the veto unconstitutional. Consequently, in December 2015, the nine political parties of the nation's Legislative Assembly filed a new bill of law which, in January 2016, was jointly signed by President Solís, the President of the Legislative Assembly and the President of the Supreme Court of Justice. It was not until July 2017 that the RPL became law.

Judicial Procedure

Procedurally, the RPL creates an internal reorganization of the labor courts throughout the country. It also limits the scope of some of the labor courts to only analyzing and deciding employment and labor matters—thus establishing new jurisdictional structure.

Prior to the RPL, labor law matters could last three or four years, or even longer. With the aim of resolving matters in a much shorter period of time, the RPL mandates that many types of matters that previously had to be adjudicated via written communications will henceforth be handled orally. Now, following the response to the lawsuit, there will be a preliminary hearing, at which the judge will hear motions, oppositions, and defenses, including with relation to the admissibility of evidence at trial, and, in complex cases, a supplementary hearing if needed.

In addition, under the RPL, in a case brought by an employee where not all possible claims were included, the judge is now permitted to advise the parties that the court may raise damage amounts above the amount sought by the employee.

The RPL also creates a Public Labor Defense Office to provide free legal assistance to employees whose monthly salary is lower than...

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