Bill Would Criminalize Colorado Wage Disputes

A recently introduced bill would create new criminal offenses with severe monetary and jail time penalties for employers in wage disputes with employees. HB12-1296, the “Income Protection Act” or the “Wage Theft Bill,” creates felony and misdemeanor offenses against a person who “knowingly: (a) fails to pay the wages or compensation to an employee; or (b) falsely denies that the amount of wages or compensation is due to an employee.”  

Opponents feel the bill is unnecessary because federal and state law already ensure that wages are paid and impose penalties and criminal liability for willful violations. Federal law subjects willful violators to a fine of not more than $10,000, or to imprisonment for not more than six months, or both. Colorado law allows recovery of penalties and attorney’s fees in suits by employees to recover wages. And, district attorneys and city attorneys can prosecute violations criminally.

Opponents also argue that the bill’s criminal consequences are too high. A wage dispute involving more than $999 but less than $20,000 could lead to a Class 4 felony – a criminal classification that includes manslaughter. Fines can range from $2,000 to $500,000, and jail sentences range from a minimum of two years to a maximum of six years. An alleged failure to pay wages in excess of $20,000 would be a Class 3 felony – a criminal classification that includes second degree murder and first degree assault with a deadly weapon. Fines can range from $3,000 to $750,000, and jail sentences range from a minimum of four years to a maximum of 12 years.

The bill is set for its first hearing in the House Judiciary Committee on Feb. 28. Employers may wish to express their opposition to the bill by contacting their representative.   
On a related note, HB12-1134, a bill that would have banned employers from publishing (in print or on the Internet) a job posting containing any provision indicating that currently unemployed persons would not be considered, was voted down in committee and will not go any further.