Colorado: Late Session Paid Sick Leave and Workers’ Compensation Bills Proposed, Wage Theft Bill Expected to Pass

With just a couple of weeks left in this year’s legislative session, bills that could affect employers have been proposed.

The paid sick leave bill we alerted you about on April 7, 2014, was proposed last week. S.B. 14-196 would create the family and medical leave insurance (FAMLI) program to provide partial wage replacement to employees taking leave to care for a new child or a family member with a serious health condition. Benefits would be paid out of a fund administered by the state and funded by premiums withheld from employees’ pay. Employers will not be required to pay employees during leave, but they will be required to restore employees to equivalent positions at the end of leave, regardless of the number of employee they employ.  Critics of the bill say the benefits levels are too generous (estimated between 66 to 95 percent of pay) for too long (12 weeks). Also, an individual employee’s annual contribution would be limited to $328, even though he or she could draw up to $12,000 in benefits. And, the program pays no benefits for partial-day absences or absences of less than 10 days, which some feel may cause employees to take more time off than is needed.  Bill sponsor Sen. Jessie Ulibarri (D-Commerce City) has a short amount of time to determine how to pay for the state to run the program and to convince his colleagues to vote for it.

Another bill would change the number of physicians employers must designate for workers’ compensation purposes from two to four. H.B. 14-1381 was proposed to give workers more choices for their care, and is not expected to increase costs for employers. The bill is the result of a compromise and does not address two controversial issues identified initially—cutting settlements for workers who violate safety rules and 90 percent of claims end with employees leaving their jobs. Despite its late introduction, this bill is expected to pass.

Finally, the wage-theft bill, called the Wage Protection Act (S.B. 14-005), has passed the Senate and moved onto the House, where it is expected to pass. The state receives approximately 5,000 wage complaints each year, the majority of which are for amounts of $5,000 or less. Currently, the state can only advise complainants on how to file in small claims court. This bill gives the state authority to investigate and prosecute wage claims brought by employees, including assessing penalties against employers. A similar bill failed in 2013 due to strong opposition. While modifications to the 2014 version caused many earlier opponents of the bill to assume a neutral position, some trade groups in affected industries continue to oppose the bill. Some observers indicate that, even if passed, the new law may have little effect, unless and until the Colorado Legislature provides a corresponding appropriation to finance the new administrative complaint system.

Colorado’s legislative session ends on May 7, 2014. Our Employment Law Update will provide the latest information on the 2014 session. Click here to register.