How long does workers’ compensation take to settle my case?

A serious workplace injury can have serious effects on your health and your ability to financially support your family. While you recover from your injury, you may not have a way to earn an income. A workers’ compensation claim may help you get financial relief by providing income while you get medical care. Unfortunately, work comp does not pay 100% of your wages, so an important question you may have is: how long does it take to settle a workers’ compensation case?

What is workers’ compensation?

Workers’ compensation, often known as work comp, workers’ comp, or workman’s comp, is a Colorado state run program that provides financial support to workers injured on the job. Workers’ compensation in Colorado primarily pays for medical treatment for your workplace injury and pay benefits to replace some of the income lost due to your injury.

Workers’ comp is the primary legal tool to get you money for a workplace injury. Most workplace accident injuries fall within work comp under Colorado law. Some workplace injuries fall outside of the Colorado work comp system. If somebody unrelated to your employer caused your injuries, you may be able to collect work comp benefits and separate claims against the third party.

Workers’ comp in Colorado is a no-fault system. Under most cases it does not matter how you received an injury at work. If you suffered an injury at work or due to your work, your employer’s work comp coverage generally must pay benefits. Workers’ compensation applies even if you cause your own injury. For example, if you slip off a ladder and hurt yourself, you can still collect work comp benefits.

Any Colorado employer that employees at least one non-owner must carry workers’ comp coverage to protect its workers. If your employer does not carry work comp coverage, it may face consequences including:

  • Paying work comp benefits out of pocket;
  • Fines assessed by the State of Colorado;
  • Jail time;
  • Losing the right to continue conducting business in the state.

As a worker you do not have to file a workers’ comp claim for a work injury; however, if you don’t file for work comp benefits you may not be able to recover for your injuries and lost wages any other way. If you suffer a work injury and discover your employer does not have work comp coverage, talk to a Colorado workers’ compensation attorney right away.

How does workers’ compensation in Colorado work?

Workers’ compensation has a few requirements for who and when you can file a successful workers’ compensation claim in Colorado. As discussed above, workers’ comp in Colorado is a no-fault system, so you do not have to prove your employer or a co-workers caused your injuries due to intentional or negligent acts. Generally, to qualify for work comp benefits in Colorado you must meet five eligibility requirements.

  1. You must be an employee of the business;
  2. The employer must have workers’ comp coverage;
  3. The injury is work-related;
  4. The employee met the reporting and filing deadlines;
  5. The worker attends all medical care appointments and follows through on recommended treatment.

An important issue that may arise with a workers’ comp claim is whether you are an employee or independent contractor. Independent contractors are not covered by workers’ compensation. If your employer’s work comp insurance company denies your claim because you are allegedly an independent contractor, talk to a workers’ compensation attorney in Colorado. Often employers misclassify employees as independent contractors. Just because your employer says you are an independent contractor does not make it true.

What is the timeline to settle a workers’ compensation claim in Colorado?

Workers’ compensation will begin paying for medical care and lost wages shortly after filing your claim (in most cases). A claim settlement may occur down the road and different lengths of time, depending upon your treatment and injuries. This is a typical timeline for a workers’ compensation case to settle in Colorado.

The injured worker files a workers’ comp claim with the employer

Your first step after obtaining any necessary emergency medical care is reporting the workplace injury to your employer. Your employer may challenge the claim, but if they do not challenge the claim you can expect to begin to receive pay benefits within a few weeks. These pay benefits make up a portion of your average weekly pay. These payments are not a settlement. These are ongoing payments while you cannot return to work in your regular position.

You continue to obtain medical treatment until you reach maximum medical improvement

You cannot get work comp payments without attempting to heal from your injury. You will need to establish care with a physician who will recommend a treatment plan to try to get you back to work. Eventually you will reach maximum medical improvement (MMI). Maximum medical improvement means you either returned to your pre-injury health condition or your physician determined you improved as far as treatment can get you. If you do not fully heal, your doctor will give you an impairment rating.

Receive a lump sum settlement

If you receive an impairment rating, your physician determined you are partially or totally permanently disabled. You then may receive a lump sum settlement of future work comp benefits. The amount you can receive depends upon the type and severity of disability. Often it takes several months before the work comp carrier will process the request for a lump sum payment.

If you receive a lump sum settlement that fully compensates you, then your work comp case is finished.

Request a pre-hearing conference and settlement discussions

Sometimes your workers’ comp claim does not flow so smoothly.

If you disagree with the work comp insurance company about coverage, benefits, or the lump sum payment, you can request a hearing. The hearing takes place with the Colorado Division of Workers’ Compensation. Before the hearing, you (or your attorney if you hired one) and the insurance company’s adjuster or attorney can engage in settlement negotiations. If settlement negotiations reach a fair result, you may settle the claim and cancel the hearing.

During negotiations, you (or your attorney) and the insurance company’s representatives will hold a pre-hearing conference. The conference is an opportunity to talk about disputed issues and exchange documents that may help settle your case. Your case may settle at or after the conference.

Typically it takes a few months to request a hearing and receive a pre-hearing conference date. If your work comp case settles at or shortly after the pre-hearing conference, it may take six months to settle your case.

Workers’ compensation hearing with a judge

If you still cannot reach a settlement after the pre-hearing conference, it is time for a hearing with a workers’ chttps://cdle.colorado.gov/icaowcomp judge. In Colorado, workers’ comp hearings occur before special administrative judges who decide workers’ comp cases.

After the pre-hearing conference, you can request a hearing date. You can request an expedited hearing. An expedited hearing will occur within 45 days of your request. A non-expedited request may result in a hearing up to 100 days after your request. After your hearing, the judge will consider the evidence and make a decision. Often, you (or your attorney) will not receive the judge’s decision for several weeks.

By the time you have a hearing and receive the decision, it may be as much as four additional months. In total, you may be a year after reaching maximum medical improvement.

Petition for review with the Industrial Claims Appeals Panel

If you disagree with the judge’s decision, you can appeal.

An appeal of a work comp judge’s decision is made to the Industrial Claims Appeals Office. The office assigns the appeal to the Industrial Claims Appeals Panel, which is made up of five administrative judges. Your appeal will be decided by at least two members of the panel. If you wish to file an appeal, you must file within 20 days of the judge’s decision.

Your appeal, called a petition for review, is a written appeal only. There is no additional hearing. You must order a transcript of the hearing and include it as part of your petition for review. You will provide the panel a legal brief explaining why you believe the judge decided your case incorrectly. Your employer or its insurance company will submit its own legal brief. The appeals panel will then consider your appeal and decide whether it agrees with the judge. Whatever the appeals panel decides is the final word from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.

This process often adds several months to your work comp claim.

Appealing to Colorado state courts

If you also disagree with the appeals panel, you may continue to appeal.

You can appeal the appeals panel’s decision to the Colorado Court of Appeals. Like the appeals panel, you will not get a new trial with the Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals will only review the transcript, previous decisions in your case and both sides’ briefs.

You may receive a hearing with the Court of Appeals to argue your appeal in person, but the Court of Appeals may decide your appeal without hearing. Appealing to the Court of Appeals to this court often take a year or more to receive a decision.

If you disagree with the decision from the Colorado Court of Appeals, you can appeal one more time to the Colorado Supreme Court. Unlike previous appeals, the Colorado Supreme Court does not have to agree to hear your case. The Supreme Court rarely hears a third appeal of a workers’ compensation hearing.

How long does the average workers’ compensation case take to settle in Colorado?

Thankfully, most workers’ compensation cases in Colorado do not require multiple appeals to reach a resolution. There is no clear agreement on the average time to settle a workers’ compensation case in Colorado. Some workers’ comp law firms suggest an average of sixteen months from injury to settlement.

Be careful about assuming any average time period applies to your claim. Your case is specific to your incident, injuries and treatment progression. The insurance company and your employer may drag out the process or dispute your claim because they think it is in their interests. The same claim with a different employer and insurance company might settle within months while yours may take years.

Additionally, keep in mind your case may take longer to settle because you receive longer treatment than the “average” case. The longer you obtain treatment, the more likely you are healing and will end up with less impairment. It is better to heal fully and take longer than stop treating quickly because your injuries are permanent.

What if I am permanently disabled due to a workplace injury?

As a result of your workplace injury, you may experience permanent disability. You may have partial disability or total disability. Partial disability means you can perform some of your job duties but with limitations. If you are totally disabled, you simply cannot perform your job. In these situations, you may qualify for permanent disability benefits.

Your treating physician will determine if you have a permanent disability and assign an impairment rating. The impairment rating will become part of determining the value of any lump sum settlement of your workers’ comp claim. Your employer and its insurance company may decide to ask you to submit to an independent medical examination (IME) to get a second opinion. They will select their medical expert to conduct the IME.

When should I hire a Colorado workers’ comp attorney?

In Colorado you do not have to hire a workers’ comp attorney to represent you. You can elect to manage your own claim. Your employer’s workers’ comp insurance company will hire an attorney to defend against your claim. Hiring an attorney gives you an experienced voice to guide you through each step of the process. This can help you get good medical treatment, move your case more efficiently and give you a fair fight to get a fair result on your case. You should talk to Colorado workers’ comp attorneys early in your case so they can give you help at every step.

What is workers’ compensation and how does it work?

Were you injured at work? You may worry about how you will pay your bills and take care of your family. The Colorado workers’ compensation system may help pay your lost wages and medical bills to help you get back on your feet. If you suffered a workplace injury, talk to Colorado attorneys for workers’ compensation benefits about your claim.

What is workers’ compensation?

Workers’ compensation is an insurance program that pays employees for workplace injuries. Workers’ compensation pays for most workplace injuries, even if you injured yourself at work. Unlike personal injury claims, like a car accident, you do not have to prove somebody else is at fault for your injuries. Workers’ compensation is a no-fault remedy for your workplace injury and lost wages. From workers’ compensation you can receive medical care without paying for the bills out of pocket, lost pay benefits and permanent disability compensation if you cannot return to the same type of work.

How does workers’ compensation work in Colorado?

We’ve talked about what workers’ compensation is, but you may have questions about how does workers’ compensation work in Colorado. Workers’ compensation in Colorado follows a specific process. The Colorado work comp helps work accident victims through the following process.

  1. The employer obtains workers’ compensation insurance to cover its employees.
  2. The employee suffers a workplace injury.
  3. The employee seeks emergency medical care and reports the injury to the employer within four days of the accident.
  4. Within ten days of receiving the report, the employer reports the injury to the Colorado Division of Workers’ Compensation.
  5. The employee continues to obtain medical care. The employer may elect to send the employee to a specific provider of its choice.
  6. If the employee cannot work, the insurance company pays a portion of the employee’s lost wages. The employer may elect to put the employee on light duty if appropriate and available.
  7. Pay benefits continue until the employee can return to work. If the employee cannot return to work due to the injury, the employee receives pay benefits indefinitely as a permanent disability.
  8. If the injured employee disagrees with the determination of benefits, the employee can file a workers’ compensation appeal. The appeal will be heard by an administrative law judge. Further appeals will go to the Industrial Claim Appeals Office and then the Colorado Court of Appeals.

Basically, after reporting you were hurt at work, you will seek medical treatment until you are healed or the treating physician determines you reached maximum medical improvement short of your pre-injury condition and you are some degree permanently impaired. After that, your workers’ compensation attorney and the employer’s insurance carrier will engage in a process to resolve the value of your work comp claim.

Workplace accident injuries in colorado

Is workers’ compensation a no-fault system in Colorado?

Yes–workers’ compensation is a no-fault system in Colorado. You can file a claim for benefits without proving your employer, a co-worker, or other person is at-fault for your injury. You can also claim benefits for an accident you caused, such as slipping off a ladder. Generally, all workplace injuries or injuries on the job are covered by workers’ compensation. There are a few exceptions, but your work comp attorney can talk to you about other options to pursue a claim.

The benefit of a workers’ compensation claim in Colorado under a no-fault system is that you do not have to settle your claim or file a lawsuit before you can get paid anything. In most personal injury cases, you have to reach a settlement or win a trial before you get paid anything.

If you have medical bills, lost wages and other out of pocket expenses in a personal injury case, you have to pay as you go and hope you get compensation in the end. In a workers’ compensation case, the work comp insurance company pays as you go, so they pay for treatment along the way and they pay you benefits for lost wages along the way.

How do I file a workers’ compensation case in Colorado?

Your first step after you receive emergency medical care is to notify your employer you were hurt at work. You need to notify your employer immediately.

If your workplace injury is an illness, you need to tell your employer as soon as you realize you are ill from a work condition. Your employer should submit a Form WC1 to the Colorado Division of Workers’ Compensation. The Form WC1 puts the Division of Workers’ Compensation on notice of the claim, income information and basic facts about the accident. The employer will also submit it to its insurance company for a determination of benefits and initiation of payments.

What if my employer won’t take a report of my workers’ compensation claim?

Sometimes employers refuse to accept your report of a workers’ compensation claim or try to discourage you from seeking workers’ compensation benefits. Although the employer doesn’t pay out of pocket for benefits when insured, the more claims an employer has the more likely it will pay an increased premium for workers’ compensation insurance. If your employer does not have insurance, it may have to pay out of pocket for your benefits. If your employer does not have work comp insurance, you should talk to a Colorado workers’ compensation attorney right away.

If your employer will not take your injury report, or fails to file a Form WC1, you can file the report yourself. You can complete a WC15–Worker’s Claim for Compensation and file it with the Division of Workers’ Compensation. Your employer has twenty days to evaluate your claim and advise if it accepts or rejects the claim.

Although you can wait up to two years to file your own work comp report, you should file as early as possible to begin receiving benefits. You should file a WC15 even if your employer does not have insurance because you may be able to receive payments from the Colorado Uninsured Employer Fund.

Workers getting help from Colorado workers' compensation attorneys

What medical care can I receive while on workers’ compensation in Colorado?

Workers’ compensation will pay for a wide range of relevant treatment and follow up care to get you back on your feet. This includes:

  • Emergency care, such as an emergency room or urgent care visit;
  • Doctor’s visits and evaluations;
  • Diagnostic imaging, such as MRIs;
  • Physical therapy, massage therapy and other forms of conservative treatment;
  • Medication;
  • Therapeutic injections
  • Surgery
  • Follow up rehabilitation to surgery and other procedures;
  • Medical devices and supplies;
  • Travel costs and mileage.

The standard for what treatment workers’ compensation will pay in Colorado is what is determined “reasonable and necessary” for your injuries. This decision may be challenged when the work comp insurance company refuses to pay for appropriate treatment.

How much lost wage will work comp pay in Colorado?

While you are out of work due to your workplace accident injury, you receive two-thirds of your average weekly wage in benefits. That amount tops out at 91% of the Colorado average weekly wage. Pay benefits continue until you can return to work. If you suffered a permanent total or partial disability, you may also receive a lump sum payment subject to statutory maximum amounts.

What does Colorado workers’ compensation pay if a workplace accident results in death?

If you lost a loved one due to a workplace accident injury, surviving dependents may receive benefits. These include pay benefits and compensation for funeral expenses. Colorado workers’ compensation sets a minimum benefit for cases involving a fatality. Pay benefits depend upon the deceased worker’s average weekly wage.

Dependent spouses may receive pay benefits for life or remarriage.

If a third party caused the accident, such as a car accident while your family member was driving in a work vehicle, you may also have a wrongful death case against the responsible party. That is not a work comp claim, but may greatly affect the amount of compensation family members can receive.

How can I win a workers’ compensation appeal in Colorado?

If your employer disputes your Colorado workers’ compensation claim, you may need to file an appeal with the Division of Workers’ Compensation to force your employer to pay on your claim. There are several key pieces of information in a work comp claim and appeal that you must prove:

  • Your injury occurred at work, was the result of the work you perform, or occurred during the course and scope of your job;
  • The type and severity of injuries;
  • How the injuries were caused by a workplace accident or condition;
  • Your average weekly wages;
  • Whether you can return to work at any point after the injury;
  • If your return to work is on a full time or part time basis;
  • If your return to work is subject to any restrictions on job duties or work hours;
  • That you made a timely report of injuries.

Although this may seem simple, you must have evidence of any disputed issue to clear up confusion and fight back against your employer’s accusations and defenses. For example, your employer may question whether a back injury was pre-existing or that only some of your back pain was caused by a workplace accident. You will need medical records and likely a medical expert to testify about the cause of your injuries. An experienced workers’ compensation attorney can assist you with obtaining medical care and presenting a strong case for your workers’ compensation claim.

Workers' compensation attorneys in Colorado winning an appeal

Do I need to hire a Colorado workers’ compensation attorney?

There is no requirement to hire a Colorado workers’ compensation attorney for your claim. You can file a claim and obtain benefits without an attorney.

Should I hire workers’ compensation attorneys in Colorado?

Although you are not required to hire workers’ compensation attorneys in Colorado for your claim, it may be to your benefit to hire an experienced attorney.

Employers and their insurance companies do not want to pay you a penny more than they have to and they will take every opportunity to lower the value of your claim, deny treatment and try to convince you to get as little treatment as possible. They will send you to medical providers who are on their side. Those providers may recommend less treatment or less expensive treatment. If you are disabled, they may give you an unreasonably low impairment rating, which will affect the value of your case.

You need good treatment and a fair evaluation of your case. Your workers’ compensation attorneys can make sure you see a physician who cares about your treatment and you receive a fair opportunity to heal and get back to work. Your workers’ compensation attorneys can fight against appeals, advise you on your legal rights and fight to get you fair compensation at the end of your claim.

Colorado Labor Laws Workplace

Colorado employment laws new for 2021

Colorado has two new and important employment laws taking effect with the beginning of 2021. 2021 hasn’t started great for many people but for Colorado employees it’s not so bad. Workers in Colorado now enjoy the benefits of the Healthy Families and Workplaces Act (HFWA) and Equal Pay for Equal Work Act.

Today’s post will break down these two new laws and how they will benefit employees in Colorado workplaces. These laws went into effect on January 1, 2021 so if your employers is covered by these new laws and already failing to meet their obligations under these laws then you should talk to a Colorado employment lawyer right away.

Healthy Families and Workplaces Act (HFWA) in Colorado

Colorado employees now enjoy the benefits of the Healthy Families and Workplaces Act in 2021 and beyond for paid sick leave. In 2021 the HFWA applies to employers with sixteen or more employees. In 2022 it will begin to apply to all Colorado employers. This statute allows employees to stay home for forty-eight hours, or six days, of paid sick leave. This law generally applies to both full time and part time employees; however, there are a few exempt employers.

Employees covered by a collective bargaining agreement with more generous terms are exempt. The federal government and employers covered by the Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act are also exempt.

Best employment lawyers in Denver

Employees under the Healthy Families and Workplaces Act accrue paid sick leave rapidly. Employees earn one hour of paid sick leave for every thirty hours of work up to the forty-eight hour limit. If a public health emergency, like covid-19, is announced then the accrual is supplemented to eighty hours for a full time employee and for part-time employees a slightly more complicated formula of approximately their normal work time for two weeks. The public health emergency applies even if the employee has exhausted all other paid time off under other policies. Because covid-19 is an active pandemic, the supplement applies for 2021.

The HFWA includes many of the same legal protections and causes of action as other labor and employment laws. The statute requires employers to provide notice in the workplace of these rights in a conspicuous place so look forward to a HFWA notice in your breakroom.

The employment law also includes a private cause of action for employees who are denied paid sick leave compliant with the statute and a private cause of action for employees who suffer retaliation for requesting leave under the statute. This means employees denied paid sick leave under the law or retaliated against for requesting it can sue their employer in Colorado courts. There is no grace period for your employer.

If you have been denied paid sick leave under the HFWA or your employer retaliated for requesting it then you should talk to Colorado employment lawyers right away.

Colorado’s Equal Pay for Equal Work Act

Prior to 2021, Colorado employees were protected from sex-based and gender-based pay discrimination under federal and Colorado law. The federal Equal Pay Act prohibits sex and gender as a basis for pay discrimination (in addition to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964). Colorado law also prohibited pay discrimination under a bare bones statute giving a nod to the language of the federal Equal Pay Act.

With the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission‘s focus on pay discrimination in the 2010s there has been a focus on beefing up the regulations and statutes prohibiting pay discrimination on the basis of sex or gender.

The new Equal Pay for Equal Work Act strengthens Colorado law and assist employees in pursuing claims for pay discrimination. This statute requires equal rates of pay for similar work across sex, gender and gender-identity. The statute aligns more closely with the federal Equal Pay Act by carving out exceptions for permissible wage discrepancies when based entirely on:

  • (1) a “seniority system”;
  • (2) a “merit system”;
  • (3) a “system that measures earnings by quantity or quality of production”;
  • (4) the “geographic location where the work is performed”
  • (5) “education, training, or experience,” but only “to the extent that they are reasonably related to the work”; or
  • (6) “travel,” but only if the travel is a “regular and necessary condition of the work.”

The employer’s reliance on these factors must be reasonable and cannot factor in wage history, which may be affected by a history of pay discrimination.

Wage-based sex and gender discrimination is certainly not a new issue and not one that will go away any time soon. Increasing the tools for regulators to stamp out these practices and for employees to pursue claims when they are the victim of this form of discrimination is critical to reducing its harmful effects.

If you believe you have suffered pay discrimination on the basis of sex, gender, or gender identity then you should contact an employment lawyer in Colorado right away. This form of employment discrimination can involve claims under several federal and Colorado employment laws which have their own statutes of limitations and administrative requirements that must be met. Experienced Colorado employment lawyers can help you navigate this system.

What might a Biden presidency mean for labor and employment law?

It seems a near certainty that Biden has won the 2020 election despite less than spectacular turnout down-ticket for Democrats. Early speculation has begun how a Democratic administration might shape various policy areas. Labor and employment law are no exception to the speculation. Democrats typically are considered more labor friendly and advance, at least mildly, pro-employee law. Let’s jump into the fray and see how Colorado employees might fare under a Democratic presidency for the next four years.

Remembering Trump’s labor and employment law policy

Honestly, not much can be said about Trump’s labor and employment law policy over the past four years. The administration stocked administrative positions with Republican allies but otherwise made very little movement towards dismantling federal labor law or employment law.

Certainly we could point to a few examples but mostly the Trump administration continued its normal modus operandi of not doing much at all. A pessimistic view of the administration may consider the administration too lazy to have done more, leaving actual policymaking to Senate Republicans and the handful of more motivated participants.

An optimistic view may point out that the administration understood a substantial part of its base comes from blue collar workers who might be lost watching the administration take aggressive and apparent moves to dismantle job protections.

Instead, the administration’s labor and employment law legacy will come in the way of indirect effects. The Trump administration’s long term impact on labor and employment law will likely be felt over decades with the appointment of several young conservative Supreme Court justices who have and will maintain a pro-employer bench.

The tax cuts passed during the Trump administration will likely continue to have a negative effect for most employees. The tax cuts promised job and wage growth but turned into the predicted payday for stockholders as companies used newly liberated financial resources for stock buybacks. Over the long term the decapitalization of businesses will require companies to oppress increased employee compensation and force reductions in force, especially as covid continues to put pressure on many service-based industries.

What may influence Biden’s labor and employment law policy?

Before considering individual policy issues, let’s first consider the stakeholders in a Biden administration and what they may push over the next four years. The traditional Democratic base is considered what are often called “special interests” by the right: people of color; unions; women; environmentalists; urban dwellers; academia and college-educated voters.

This election, even more than 2016, saw something of a realignment. Biden pushed his credentials in the black community while veering the party to the right to try to capture disaffected conservatives. Other people of color were pushed to the side and while Biden enjoyed broad support among women, it was Trump who made an explicit plea to a group of women (suburban women).

Biden campaigned hard in union heavy states like Pennsylvania and Michigan but made little open promise to do anything for union workers or lower paid workers in general. (Although he campaigned mildly in support of a minimum wage increase.)

When Biden takes office and has to pay his debts from the election, it is highly likely that he is going to offer little to the unions and other stakeholders who formed his base. Democrats are already openly discussing the need to compromise with the uncompromising Republicans. Biden, long on the right of the party, depicts himself as a regular guy from Scranton but his career in politics suggests otherwise.

Unions fought hard to campaign for him and become a participant in his administration; however, even through the campaign Biden has surrounded himself with people with an even worse record towards worker rights. Biden’s voting record is not endearing. He voted for NAFTA and the TPP along with the 2005 bankruptcy bill that severely punished working people for debts while making it easier for business interests to wipe out their own.

Of course, there is also the matter of those Republican voters who pushed him to victory. It appears despite Biden taking the White House Democrats failed to motivate voters downticket. Current results show Democrats losing seats in the House along with losses at the state and local level. The only serious explanation is that Democrats failed to motivate voters for any reason other than orange man bad. Voters seem as lukewarm on the idea of Democratic leadership as they are Trump leadership.

Democrats now have an example of how they can move to the right and take the White House. Unfortunately the party will likely move to the right while ignoring their losses downticket. Speaker Pelosi has already claimed the election as giving them a mandate to govern, an interesting opinion for somebody who lost supporters in the election. We should expect that Biden will capitalize on his “mandate” and govern from well into the right.

What a Biden labor and employment law policy might produce

Right wing media outlets from The Hill and onward might want to depict Biden as some socialist, labor extremist but that would be an about face for a politician with nearly fifty years of contrary experience. As discussed above, the Biden administration has fewer debts to pay to labor and working people than perhaps any Democratic president in the past hundred years. Biden could prove this wrong and pay his debts in the way of strong nominations to the EEOC, NLRB and federal judiciary. He could champion minimum wage increases and all his other labor and employment law campaign promises but there is little to suggest that is going to happen.

Wage issues

The Biden campaign supported pro-employee wage policies but signs are not promising we will see much movement in the next four years. Biden mildly campaigned in favor of a minimum wage increase to $15/hour but this was never much of a component of the campaign. Biden has never been a significant advocate of increasing minimum wage and if he governs to a coalition of Republican voters it is unlikely that will occur. Democrats have not been especially vocal at the federal level on minimum wage increases in more than a decade when minimum wage increased to $7.25 under a 2007 law.

Biden also claims support for the Paycheck Fairness Act which would strengthen the Equal Pay Act by narrowing the reasons why an employer can have disparate compensation between the sexes. Democrats may press to pass this law early in Biden’s term so they can point to a pro-worker accomplishment for the next four years. This would also put Republicans in the position of having to pass the law or lose out on the opportunity to make an appeal to suburban women in 2022 and 2024.

Labor Rights

Biden historically has talked up unions and worker rights despite not doing much about it in his long political career. We should expect some small acts by the administration but there is little historical evidence that Biden intends to expend the political capital necessary to strengthen organized labor. The proposed PRO Act would accomplish this goal. Biden claimed support for the legislation on the campaign trail but moving on it as president will take more than writing support on a campaign website. Biden will have to overcome the GOP majority in the Senate which seems unlikely to want to pass legislation designed to help a traditionally important Democratic support structure.

Like Obama, Biden will probably do a good job supporting the NLRB as a low key but critical benefit for organized labor. The NLRB rules on labor violations and a Democratic majority is likely to swing the board to pro-employee from Trump’s Republican majority.

Pregnancy Discrimination

In September the House passed the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act which would require employers to make reasonable accommodations for pregnancy and childbirth similar to those required by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Much like the Paycheck Fairness Act, this may pass the GOP Senate. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce supports the bill which is telling of Republican support.

Employment security

As a long time ally of business interests, Biden is unlikely to do much to reverse the mostly bipartisan assault of worker rights over the past several decades. He is unlikely to spend the political capital to champion a reversal of Republican tax cuts or support any green initiatives that risk business interests that might in turn lose his newly found base of Republicans. With a looming economic collapse due to college and housing debt, Biden is unlikely to do much to help workers protect themselves from the inevitable waves of unemployment.

Similarly, Covid-19 will remain a substantial issue for the next year or more. Biden is less likely to support blind openness through rising infection rates, certainly not to the detriment of Democrat governors around the country, but never expressed any real desire to support worker bailouts seen in other developed nations. Democrats support shutting down businesses to slow growth but their anemic support for the affected workers has understandably disconnected them from working class support. Biden is likely to continue this approach having given no indication he feels differently.

Can an employee be fired for no reason in Colorado? Part 1

Colorado employees often find themselves fired, terminated, let go, laid off, etc. for reasons that may not have anything to do with violating workplace rules or poor job performance. An employee in that position reasonably questions whether the reason he or she was fired was wrongful or violated their Colorado employee rights.

Under Colorado employment law employees who work under at-will employment can be fired for no reason at all.

Employers can terminate employees without a job-related reason or on the basis of bad information or even a bad reason. The employer’s power to fire employees is not unlimited, however. There are many reasons under federal and Colorado employment law why an employer may not fire an employee even in an at-will employment relationship. If you believe you may have been fired for an unlawful reason then you may have a claim for wrongful termination and you should talk to Denver employment lawyers right away about your potential claims.

This post will be a series of posts regarding wrongful termination in Colorado. 

What does it mean for an employer to fire for no reason in Colorado?

In most cases employers do not randomly terminate employees without a particular reason. It is expensive to find, hire and train employees. Every employee fired is a lost investment of those resources so employers typically do not casually fire employees. That does not mean every employer termination decision is rational or based on a thorough investigation.

Colorado employers can fire you for no reason even if it is not a financially smart decision. Employers sometimes fire workers for extremely stupid reasons or for good reasons but on the basis of bad information or insufficient investigation. Unfortunately federal and Colorado employment law allow employers to make decisions to fire employees without any minimum explanation, reason, or investigation.

The basis for an employer’s power to fire you for no reason in Colorado comes from the at-will employment relationship. Let’s talk about what that means under federal and Colorado employment law.

What is at-will employment under federal and Colorado employment law?

In this country employment relationships in all states but Montana are by default at-will employment. At-will employment means the employment relationship exists at the will of both parties. In other words, the employment relationship lasts as long as both the employer and employee agree to continue it. Either party can terminate the relationship without consequence or permission of the other party. Over time federal and Colorado labor and employment law created exceptions to the at-will employment doctrine discussed below but the default assumption is that unless an exception exists or the parties have created a different relationship then the employment relationship is at-will.

Federal and Colorado law creates at-will employment under the legal fiction that employer and employee have equal bargaining power when creating an employment relationship. Anybody who has ever worked a job knows that is pure fiction. Employees need their jobs to pay bills and live while employers can easily fire an employee and either hire somebody new or assign the terminated employee’s work to other employees. Nevertheless, the at-will employment doctrine allows employers to fire for no reason any employee who works under this type of relationship.

Employment relationships that are not at-will employment in Colorado

An employee does not have to work under the at-will employment doctrine. Contractual employment and bargained employment agreements are not at-will employment because they create employment relationships that cannot be terminated on the whim of either party.

Employees may work under contracts that create many different conditions that regulate how an employer or employee can terminate the relationship. These can be term contracts, such as employment for one year, or contracts without a specific length. Employment contracts often include provisions describing what reasons an employer can terminate the relationship or set standards for job performance that an employee must fail to meet to be fired. Under these contracts an employee cannot be fired for no reason.

Employees can also work under collective bargaining agreements. These agreements typically exist in union workplaces in which the employees work under one agreement that covers the employment of many workers.

Collective bargaining agreements can lay out specific procedures to fire an employee and reasons why an employee can be fired. CBAs are not just creations of contract law. They are also creatures of federal and Colorado labor law which create additional protections around union participation and require employers to follow procedures that inject some degree of fairness into termination decisions.

What is wrongful termination in Colorado–Colorado labor laws and termination

Exceptions to the at-will employment doctrine exist in federal and Colorado labor and employment law as statutory and common law creations. That means either a statute passed by the federal or state legislature explicitly prohibit certain reasons why an employee can be fired or courts created specific reasons why the constitution or other laws do not allow an employer to fire you. There are many exceptions under federal and Colorado law–too many to list out entirely here–but some common ones include:

These and other exceptions to the at-will employment doctrine commonly include extremely precise rules to apply so if you believe your employer fired you for an unlawful reason then you should contact Denver employment lawyers right away to discuss your situation and see if you have a claim.

Wrongful termination in Colorado can also arise if you work under a contract or collective bargaining agreement and the employer terminates you in violation of the terms of the contract. These claims are different from wrongful termination when an employee is fired in violation of a statute or common law exception to at-will employment because they are contractual claims. You should also contact a Denver employment lawyer to discuss a claim for wrongful termination for violating a contract or CBA.

If an employer fires you for no reason or for a reason not prohibited by law or contract then your employer likely acted legally and you may not have a claim for wrongful termination in Colorado. You may still have a claim for unemployment benefits and can file for unemployment even if you do not have other legal recourse.

In the next post on wrongful termination in Colorado we will delve further into some of the common unlawful acts that make up a wrongful termination lawsuit in Colorado. 

Predictions for a post-quarantine workplace in Colorado

Denver labor law elected not to report on the employment law changes that took place during the quarantine for several reason. While there is good reporting on the federal relief legislation like the CARES Act or FMLA amendments for COVID-19, the risk that generalized legal discussion on this blog might lead people to make decisions about their specific situation that might be extremely harmful to their jobs. Now that it appears Colorado will follow national recommendations to ease out of quarantine we have to wonder what kind of workplace there will be for workers as they return to work.

We know that an overwhelming number of workers were laid off as shelter in place set in with even less known about how many will have their jobs restored as people return to work. With the federal enhancement to unemployment benefits beginning to be paid at the end of May (backdated to March 27) it is likely those who temporarily gave up applying for unemployment benefits will make renewed efforts so the total number of unemployed workers may not be known for some time.

Nevertheless, here are some predictions for what workers may experience returning to the workplace.

We don’t know how long it will take for the vast majority of jobs to return in Colorado

Practically we know that unwinding quarantine will take longer than instituting the COVID-19 quarantine. One obvious reason is that the Colorado orders unwinding quarantine are not opening all industries for work right away or letting offices fully restaff right away. That is going to slow workers getting back to work and slow the return of economic activity justifying full employment. We don’t know at this point how many businesses might not return after quarantine ends or how competition among the stronger survivors might beat up those in more precarious positions.

We also do not know if reversing quarantine will be a permanent path forward. If COVID-19 cases start increasing we likely will see a return to at least a more stringent quarantine. Colorado, along with other states, may enact waves of quarantine to try to flatten the curve.

The extent and permanence of the return to normal economic activity will definitely play a role in jobs returning. Industries that rely upon large social gatherings likely will be especially hard hit for some time which will have ripple effects on other industries. Jobs within these industries and those secondary to social businesses may not fully recover staffing for months or even years after quarantine fully ends.

A secondary concern is that after the initial quarantine the increase in contact and proximity may incite another spike in infections which will force another quarantine order. That may be disastrous for businesses dealing in perishable products as they place orders for supplies and then have to dispose of them in a subsequent shelter in place order. Employers could find themselves cutting workers to account for those business losses.

More remote work will occur in the future

Businesses remain divided on the subject of remote work in general but the shelter in place order forced many businesses to expand their remote staffing which may encourage more employers to adopt broader remote staffing policies. As employers see productivity remain fairly consistent with long term work from home it will be tempting to transfer more Colorado employees to remote work and give up the expense of maintaining offices.

While working from home is widely popular it also comes with the risk that employers will go a step further and consider moving their workforce out of employee relationships into independent contractor positions. Along with this move workers will see benefits disappear along with opportunities for promotions.

Further issues arise in urban parts of Colorado like Denver, Fort Collins, Boulder and Colorado Springs in which businesses leave downtown offices and business parks as they downsize office space and in turn reduce the consumers of nearby businesses such as restaurants, gas stations and convenience stores.

Denver workplace harassment lawyer

Employers will likely respond to the return to work with pay and benefit reductions

WIth the economy still far behind its pre-quarantine state many businesses are already cutting benefits and salary as they rush employees back into the office. After the collapse in 2008 many employers in Colorado and other states moved benefits and bonuses to discretionary benefits so employers could cut employee compensation in economic downturns. We are already seeing employers cutting 401k matches and other now-discretionary benefits. We are also seeing salary cuts across the nation, especially with non-executive compensation.

Much like the 2008 collapse, employees will likely see at least some of these reductions and discretionary benefit cuts become permanent as employers look to further cut labor costs regardless of productivity.

Employees suffer the greatest harm in economic downturns rather than the executives who receive enormous compensation packages for their leadership. Executive compensation is typically one of the last business costs to suffer cuts in a downturn despite the fact that their leadership failed to plan appropriately or foresee economic downturns. This is particularly appalling in the current economy.

For years businesses have been hoarding cash over increasing employee compensation. The argument for the 2017 tax cuts was that employers would increase worker pay but instead they took all that money and used it for stock buybacks which increase shareholder compensation and in turn often executive compensation but left the coffers empty to weather this storm.

High unemployment numbers will put pressure on workers to accept less pay and worse work conditions

Unemployment numbers reflect that twenty percent of the workforce was rendered unemployed by the quarantine–an enormous number. That does not even account for the people who suffered reductions in hours or people who left the workforce entirely. High unemployment increases the supply of available workers for any job opening and employers take advantage of the increased supply by reducing the compensation for jobs. As a result employers enjoy long term reductions in labor costs.

Employers also know people are less likely to leave their current positions because it is more difficult to obtain new work and the available jobs are less likely to pay better. That allows employers to cut compensation, increase work demands and generally treat employees worse. Like other harms suffered by employees following an economic downturn, employees are likely to see many of these changes become long term.

Sexual harassment will rise considerably

Sexual harassment claims are likely to increase over the next year for several reasons. As discussed above, employees are likely to suffer less pleasant workplaces and employers will feel emboldened to take advantage of employees knowing they are unlikely to leave and therefore suffer in silence. Managers will take advantage of that environment to engage in quid pro quo harassment and other forms of sex discrimination.

Further, quarantine has understandably been a difficult period of loneliness for a lot of people and inevitably some people are going to take the return to work as an opportunity to try to remedy that loneliness in some inappropriate ways. Quarantine has also seen concerning increases in domestic abuse and relationship stress that will likely lead to the end of a significant number of relationships. Those people may reenter singledom in inappropriate ways as well.

Retaliation complaints will skyrocket

With all of the problems discussed above employees will likely complain about these unwelcome situations only to suffer additional negative consequences which in turn will prompt more internal and external retaliation complaints. Most labor and employment laws in Colorado and under federal law have separate provisions allowing employees to recover for harm suffered as a result of complaining about unlawful activity.

Colorado employers will seek relief from labor and employment lawsuits as COVID-19 stress

Employers are already gearing up to argue a defense of unlawful labor and employment practices that COVID-19 and the quarantine effects resulted in strange times and employers should enjoy slack in following the law. This defense is likely to roll out across federal and Colorado courts in labor and employment lawsuits. There is reasonable probability that at least some states will pass laws giving employers statutory relief from labor and employment laws.

Waves of layoffs will likely continue for a year or more as seasonal businesses feel the effects

Even with a general return to work many industries will likely continue to suffer waves of layoffs. Productivity reductions will likely continue for an extended period of time as people remain out of work and people avoid large gatherings. This will be a particular problem for industries that rely entirely upon people gathering together or spending discretionary income. Tourism, concerts, conventions, gambling, skiing and other industries will likely feel the effects of this economic downturn long after people return to work.

What Colorado workers should do now

This is a tough time for a lot of workers and unfortunately it is unlikely to get better any time soon. Workers should aggressively document problems in the workplace and defend themselves as well as they can from unlawful activities. If you believe an employer or potential employer violated your labor and employment rights then you should talk to a Colorado employment lawyer right away. You may need to act within a short period of time to preserve your claims. You may also want to talk to an employment lawyer about the consequences of taking legal action against an employer versus your other options to avoid an unlawful situation.

Can your resignation letter defeat your Colorado employment lawsuit?

It is common in many Colorado jobs for employees to submit a resignation letter when leaving a job–but what happens when you submit a resignation letter and then sue the employer? Many workers may be surprised to find out their resignation letter may cause problems for a lawsuit against an employer for wrongful termination, employment discrimination, unpaid wages, or other labor and employment law claims.

A resignation letter could also create problems for unemployment claims. Colorado workers should exercise caution when drafting a resignation letter to avoid complicating their lawsuits or unemployment claims. If you believe you may need to leave a job and sue your employer then you should talk to a Colorado employment lawyer before giving your employer any resignation letter to avoid these problems.

What is a resignation letter and why employees submit resignation letters

Resignation letters are at a minimum written notice to an employer of your intent to end the employment relationship. Often Colorado employers request two week notice of your intent to leave your job and for you to give notice in writing. Employers often promise to leave your status as eligible for rehire if you give this resignation letter. In some professions and some positions it is expected that you will include within a resignation letter niceties about the company and your colleagues. Other workers write these types of resignation letters because they think they should.

Generally, there is no duty for employees to notify an employer in Denver or other parts of Colorado of your intent to end the employment relationship. An employment contract may require notice or an employer might give you some specific benefit for writing notice; however, Colorado labor and employment law does not require you to do so. To the extent that you may have a duty to give notice or want to receive a promised benefit of giving notice, you certainly do not have a legal obligation to make your employer feel good on the way out the door.

How a resignation letter can cause problems for your federal or Colorado employment lawsuit

Let’s say you decide one day work conditions are so terrible you have no choice but to quit and then you sue the Colorado employer for wrongful termination or employment discrimination. Your lawsuit might seek relief under federal and Colorado employment law. You decide to give your employer a resignation letter that politely gives notice of your last day and thanks the employer for the opportunity and some other pleasantries. Let’s say it says you are leaving to pursue other opportunities. This is a very common resignation letter. The resignation letter does not mention the problems in the workplace or discrimination.

That resignation letter is a real problem for your lawsuit.

Your resignation letter tells a very different story of your job and the conditions that led to you quitting your job from what your lawsuit alleges. Your wrongful termination claim necessarily has to allege that the work conditions were so unbearable that you had to leave which effectively acted to termination your employment.

This is called constructive discharge.

If workplace conditions were so terrible then why did you say something so different in your resignation letter? Why did you resign at a later date and continue to endure the punishing conditions? If the job was so bad then why did you not mention that at all in your resignation letter? Why did you say you were leaving to pursue other opportunities and not because the workplace harassment was too much?

Certainly, you can argue that you sent the letter to be polite or because you did not want to force yourself into an awkward confrontation on the way out the door. Maybe a jury believes that; but maybe a jury thinks if you had the ability to pause and give consideration to politeness then maybe the workplace was not quite as bad as you allege.

Another issue the employer’s attorneys will undoubtedly raise is that you were blatantly dishonest in the resignation letter–or dishonest in filing your lawsuit. They cannot both be true. At best you have an uphill battle for your credibility. At worst you may lose your lawsuit at summary judgment before even reaching a jury.

Employers will use your resignation letter against you

Increasingly employers find new ways to use resignation letters against former employees. In the prior section we discussed how employers use them to defeat wrongful termination and other lawsuits.

For example, employers use them to enforce noncompete agreements and provisions allowing them to clawback hiring bonuses and other compensation.

You may also file for unemployment benefits on the basis that the workplace was untolerable and employers will use your resignation letter as proof you said something different from the allegations in your unemployment claim. Employers in Colorado will use any evidence that their disposal to their benefit. Giving an employer a resignation letter just adds to the available evidence they can use against you.

What should I put in a resignation letter?

If you are leaving a job on unpleasant terms then you should talk to a Denver employment lawyer if possible before leaving to get specific advice on how to quit your job. Generally if you are leaving a job for unpleasant reasons then you should give written notice of your departure but leave out any commentary about your job or the employer.

Simply write, “Please accept this as notice my last day of work will be X.” You may add your current contact information so the employer can send you a final W-2 or necessary documents. Generally your employer is not owed anything more. You do not need to thank them for the opportunity to work or hope to work with anybody in the future.

When facing poor work conditions or problems on the job you should talk to Colorado employment lawyers immediately about your job. Labor and employment law are complex ares of law and legal answers can turn on minute details and complicated legal analysis. Experienced employment lawyers can discuss your situation and give you an answer specific to your situation.

Does Colorado have anti discrimination laws?

Colorado employees enjoy protections from unlawful forms of discrimination under federal and Colorado anti discrimination laws. These employment discrimination laws prohibit employers from treating employees less favorably than other employees on the basis of one or more protected classes. Employees who suffer unlawful forms of discrimination have remedies under federal law and the Colorado Anti Discrimination Act.

If you believe an employer discriminated against you as an employee or applicant then you should contact a Denver employment lawyer to discuss your case right away. Many employment discrimination claims require you to take specific acts within a short period of time to pursue a lawsuit or other remedy.

Federal employment discrimination laws in Colorado

Federal employment laws prohibit several forms of discrimination against employees and job applicants in Colorado. These laws often overlap with the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act but provide separate rights and remedies from the state law. Federal employment laws prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of:

  • Race
  • Ethnicity
  • Gender
  • Sex
  • Religion
  • Disability
  • Age (over forty)
  • National origin

Other employment laws prohibit Colorado employers from discriminating against employees who exercise certain labor and employment law rights, like joining a union or taking FMLA leave, but these are often not thought of as explicitly anti-discrimination laws.

The patchwork of federal anti-discrimination laws (such as Title VII and the Americans with Disabilities Act) give Colorado employees remedies for discrimination on the basis of the protected classes above from acts such as:

  • failure to hire
  • failure to promote
  • harassment/hostile work environment
  • wrongful termination
  • pay disparity
  • demotions

Unfortunately these federal employment laws create a confusing mix of rights, remedies and procedures. For example, a Colorado employee who believes he or she suffers pay discrimination on the basis of sex could pursue claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Pay Act. Under Title VII an employee must file an administrative charge with the EEOC within 180 days and follow an administrative procedure before a lawsuit filing a lawsuit. Under the Equal Pay Act a Colorado employee can directly file suit but must do so within two years. If you believe you have a claim for employment discrimination under federal law then you should talk to Denver employment lawyers right away.

Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act statute

Colorado anti-discrimination laws

Like most states, Colorado has its own anti-discrimination laws that apply within its borders. These anti-discrimination laws apply to employment as well as other areas such as housing and public accommodations. Colorado prohibits employment discrimination under a single statute, rather than a patchwork design of federal discrimination law. Colorado enacted the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act to create a uniform structure of anti-discrimination protections for employees and applicants.

What is the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act?

The Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act is the state statute prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of protected classes. The protected classes under the Colorado statute today include all of the same classes protected by federal law but also include explicit protections for gender identity and sexual orientation.

Like federal law, the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act establishes an administrative procedure to enforce the law’s protections and provide a forum for employees to pursue remedies. At one time employees could only pursue relief under the Colorado law through the Colorado Civil Rights Division and only limited types of relief. Today the statute allows Colorado employees to pursue claims either through the administrative process or by filing suit in Colorado state courts.

Unlike federal law, the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act covers all employers in the state. Federal laws only apply to employers, depending upon the statute, with as few as two employees or as much as a minimum of twenty employees. For some types of employment discrimination in small businesses, the Colorado statute is the only available remedy for employees and applicants.

In many ways the federal and state employment discrimination laws overlap in remedies, rights and protections but it is important to be aware of the distinctions when pursuing a claim. Often employees and applicants will simultaneously pursue claims under both federal and state law which adds an additional layer of complexity to ensure compliance with both federal and state procedures. Hiring an employment lawyer in Denver can make it easier to ensure your claims are not defeated by failing to comply with statutory requirements.

When was the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act passed?

The original anti-discrimination statute in Colorado was named the Colorado Fair Employment Practices Law enacted in 1957. This law prohibited discrimination only on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin and religion. It created a rudimentary administrative agency and procedure to enforce its anti-discrimination protections in Colorado. A series of amendments added age (over forty), disability, gender identity and sexual orientation.

Colorado was a prominent battleground for LGBT discrimination protections in the 1990s. For as far back as the 1970s several cities had battled over creating municipal protections against various LGBT-related forms of discrimination.  In 1992 a state ballot initiative succeeded to prohibit cities from enacting their own anti-discrimination ordinances barring LGBT-related employment discrimination.

This led to Romer v. Evans which went to the Supreme Court who ruled the amendment violated the federal Equal Protections Clause and struck it down. In 2007 the governor signed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act which amended the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act to prohibit gender identity and sexual orientation in employment.

The Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act continues to evolve to improve protections for employees. As recently as 2015 the statute changed to allow employees to file suit in state court and to recover compensatory and punitive damages. Today the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act continues to provide employees in the state with strong employment discrimination protections.

Employment discrimination lawyers in Colorado

Hiring Denver employment lawyers for Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act claims

When pursuing an employment discrimination claim in Colorado there are many immediate issues to consider. The employee or applicant must determine if federal law also applies to the situation or just the Colorado statute. If federal law may apply then one must assess which laws apply and what procedures are required to pursue claims under them.

Those procedures, plus Colorado procedures must be satisfied–often with technical, precise compliance. The Colorado person pursuing claims must also consider the precise explanation of the discriminatory practices to ensure the description matches prohibited acts under the applicable statutes. There are then later decisions about valuing the claims, when and where to file suit and how to proceed in court or an administrative hearing.

Employees and applicants in Colorado typically are not experienced or familiar with these issues. Failing to follow the right procedures can result in completely losing the right to pursue a valid discrimination claim. One of the best things you can do for yourself is to hire Denver employment lawyers as soon as you believe you may have a claim to give your lawyers an opportunity to investigate your claims and follow the process that presents the strongest case.

Colorado Labor and Employment Law 2019 Legislative Session Review

With the 2019 legislative session here in Colorado behind us it is time to check out how workers performed. The 2018 midterm election ushered in a Democratic majority but a purple state like Colorado is not always the most aggressive state for labor laws and employment laws favoring

workers. Many areas of Colorado remain deeply red and antagonistic to employee rights both in specific industries and across the workforce. This year brought a large number of labor law and employment law bills in both the state house and senate, many favoring workers. Not all bills succeeded but overall workers fared well. This earlier post discussed the 2019 proposed labor and employment law bills in greater detail.

employment discrimination lawyer in Denver, Colorado

Employment discrimination laws proposed for Colorado in 2019

The 2019 legislative session saw some…interesting proposals on employment discrimination as a result of the Supreme Court’s opinion in Masterpiece Cakeshop that generally found the Colorado Civil Rights Commission and the Colorado judiciary wrongly decided whether a business can discriminate on its supposed religious beliefs. Part of the opinion relied upon what the court viewed as an antagonistic view of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission of the shop owner’s religious beliefs.

Colorado Republics responded by introducing H.B. 19-1081 which would have made it harder to prove discrimination complaints before the Civil Rights Commission.  In short, this bill would require Colorado to finance a legal defense for a business accused of unlawful discrimination and repay the business if it ultimately prevails. Thankfully this ridiculous bill failed. 

A second Masterpiece Cakeshop related bill, H.B. 19-1111, would require members of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission to undergo First Amendment training to avoid repeating what the Supreme Court found offensive about the commission’s behavior. Although training on civil rights is not a terrible idea, the purpose of this law was to backdoor a legislative admonishment  to the Colorado Civil Rights Commission. This bill also failed.

Non-Masterpiece Cakeshop employment discrimination bills

A few employment discrimination bills unrelated to Masterpiece Cakeshop also made their way to the Colorado legislature.

H.B. 19-1039 proposed making it easier for transgender individuals to obtain government identification documents. While this bill does not directly apply to employment settings it likely will reduce instances of hiring discrimination against transgender workers who present as a different gender from the gender or sex marked on state identification. H.B. 19-1039 passed.

S.B. 19-056 proposed allowing employers to give veterans preference for jobs as long as the veteran is as qualified as other applicants. This bill intended to clarify existing law permitting preferred hiring for veterans by sharpening language prohibiting veteran preference to act as pretext for other forms of discrimination. This bill failed the 2019 Colorado legislative session.

H.B. 19-1025 proposed “banning the box” by limiting inquires into criminal backgrounds on initial applications for many jobs. Many employment discrimination lawyers observe that questions on criminal backgrounds often result in discrimination in hiring practices against people of color as a result of institutional racism in the criminal justice system. H.B. 19-1025 passed.

S.B. 19-085, the Equal Pay for Equal Work Act, proposed an explicit prohibition on pay-based mechanisms of sex discrimination. This Colorado bill creates state remedies similar to the federal Equal Pay Act. The Equal Pay for Equal Work Act also prohibits employers from asking about pay history which has historically allowed prior acts of sex-based pay discrimination to follow employees through their careers. After years of fighting to pass similar bills, S.B. 19-085 succeeded. S.B. 19-085 will go into effect in 2021.

Family and medical leave laws proposed in 2019 Colorado legislative session

The 2019 Colorado legislative session took yet another stab at expanding family and medical leave laws for employees. Colorado workers already enjoy family and medical leave protections under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act and the Colorado Family and Medical Leave Act; however, these laws only protect the right to take unpaid leave for family or medical situations. Many employers allow or require employees to exhaust paid sick time or vacation time but once paid time off runs out the employees must choose between unpaid leave or returning to work prematurely.

H.B. 19-1058 proposed creating family leave savings accounts similar to Health Savings Accounts (HSA) or Flexible Spending Accounts (FSA) for family and medical leave. Like an HSA or FSA it provides benefit to those employees who can afford to set aside funds but does nothing at all for working class employees most financially vulnerable to unpaid leave from work. Employees are already free to save money for unpaid leave. This bill would have done little more than create another tax shelter for wealthier employees. This bill failed.

S.B. 19-188 proposed creating paid family and medical leave as a statutory right. Paid family and medical leave has been proposed several times in Colorado but fails due to strong resistance by business groups and their lobbyists. Eventually the proposed bill set out in the Colorado Senate only created funding and programming to study the creation of a state insurance program to pool the costs of paid family and medical leave. This bill passed. Creating a formal program to study the issue is great but leaves open the door that the eventually analysis will be diluted to worthlessness by business interests.

Wage and hour bills proposed by the Colorado legislature in 2019

Colorado also saw movement on minimum wage and other compensation issues on behalf of employees. The result of four bills proposed in the 2019 legislative session favored employees.

H.B. 19-1210 proposed creating a statutory right for Colorado cities to set their own minimum wages higher than the state’s own minimum wage. One might think such law is needless political pandering by Democrats but that is not the case. Around the country business interests pursue legal avenues to prevent this from happening. They file lawsuits challenging the authority of cities to set higher minimum wages along with statutes prohibiting cities from setting their own minimum wages.

Creating a statutory right for cities to enact their own minimum wages higher than the state minimum allows larger metro areas with higher costs of living to set minimum wages matching those costs while not requiring smaller towns across Colorado to follow suit. This bill passed into law but I expect to see judicial challenges to its constitutionality nevertheless.

H.B. 19-1267 proposed making it a felony to fail to pay wages to a worker when the amount of unpaid wages meets or exceeds $2000. Colorado labor and employment law already contains criminal and civil penalties for failure to timely pay wages; however, like in most states these penalties are mild and ineffective at deterring employers from paying employees waged owed. Hopefully raising the stakes will nudge employers to do the right thing and pay wages in full and on time. This bill also passed.

S.B. 19-022 proposed funding a bonus program for teachers who are “highly effective” at their jobs. This Republican bill responded to demands this year for higher teacher pay through typical tactics of wanting workers to fight each other over scraps and make them teach to bonus metrics rather than to the curriculum. Democrats refused to join the bill and as a result it failed.

H.B. 19-1107 proposed providing funding for state programs to provide job training to lower income and unemployed Coloradans. State programs create an alternative for workers to improve job skills and earning potential from expensive college and technical programs. This bill passed.

Labor law bills proposed in the 2019 Colorado legislative session

This year’s legislative session only brought one labor law bill to the floor but it proposed an incredible shift in Colorado labor law. H.B. 19-1101 proposed prohibiting employers from requiring union membership as a condition of employment. Colorado has a unique function under the Colorado Labor Peace Act in which an employer may be required to only employ union workers if a second vote, following the vote for union representation passes, with a supermajority to close the employer from nonunion employees.

Union opponents often criticize closed shops or union shops as destroying a fictitious free labor market and push these types of bills to make it more difficult for unions to provide effective representation in the workplace and weaken their ability to pool resources for that purpose. If employers can always hire nonunion workers then the employer has a reason to hire workers who are unlikely to join the union. That increases the likelihood workers may vote away the union and at a minimum reduces support for the union in the workplace. Thankfully, this bill failed.

Other labor and employment laws proposed in the 2019 Colorado legislative session

A smattering of labor law and employment law bills were proposed in this Colorado legislative session.

S.B. 19-018 proposed reducing the driving age to receive a commercial driving license to eighteen. This bill opens job opportunities to younger adults by eliminating a legal barrier to jobs requiring operation of commercial vehicles. This bill passed.

H.B. 19-1119 proposed expanding access to records of peace officer internal investigations. While not directly a labor or employment law issue, this bill would indirectly affect the employment record of peace officers in the state. Easier access to negative investigation findings may limit opportunities for affected officers. This bill, however, passed.

H.B. 19-1105 proposed permitting nurse practitioners to treat workers compensation patients. This also passed.

H.B. 19-1117 proposed requiring the Colorado Department of Regulatory Affairs to regulate professions in the least restrictive means possible to avoid public harm. While that might sound okay on its face the function of the proposed statute is to create a judicial avenue to challenge any regulatory system and force the government to defend any professional regulation.

Typically government regulation need only prove a rational basis; this bill would require DORA to meet a high burden by proving it regulated from the least restrictive means possible and that the purpose of the regulation can only be to avoid public harm. This Republican-led bill failed.

Conclusion

Overall this session advanced the interests of Colorado employees and defeated several bills that would have had broad negative effects for workers. While we could always chase a better result, we should be happy that Democrats took a step forward and fought for employees. The totality of bills passed in this session reflects the Democrats in the legislature and the presence of a more liberal Democrat in the executive than the bland governor he replaced.

Supreme Court deals another blow to employees on arbitration

Earlier this year Denver Labor Law reported on the Supreme Court’s position on mandatory arbitration of independent contractors in New Prime. At the end of April the nation’s highest court issued another employment arbitration decision on the subject of class arbitrations. In Lamps Plus the Supreme Court resolved that employees (and presumably other classes) are not entitled to arbitrate as a class unless the arbitration agreement provides for that form of arbitration in its text.

Lamps Plus is another case in recent Supreme Court jurisprudence strengthening the power of businesses to force individuals into private arbitration proceedings out of the public view of the courts.

What is class arbitration in employment law?

Arbitration is a private form of conflict resolution created by contract but enforced as a special type of contract by federal and state laws that require parties to forego their right to bring a lawsuit in court and instead bring claims covered by the arbitration agreement into an arbitration proceeding.

Under the governing law, such as the Federal Arbitration Act, parties can generally create any rules they wish for arbitration but as arbitration become more prominent as a compelled condition of consumer and employment relationships courts set minimal standards that require some degree of fairness and due process.

Neither federal nor state arbitration law requires parties to individually arbitrate every claim. Parties could form agreements that allow for class arbitrations in which claims of many parties are brought in a single arbitration action, much like a class action lawsuit in Colorado or federal courts.

For example, if several employees alleged workplace harassment by a single employer then they might bring a class action against the employer under federal and Colorado employment law. An arbitration agreement in the workplace may require the parties to arbitrate and the employees could arbitrate as a class if permitted by the agreement.

When does an arbitration agreement allow for class arbitration under Lamps Plus?

Prior to Lamps Plus the Supreme Court had mostly closed the door on class arbitrations unless the arbitration agreement explicitly permitted it. In 2010 the Supreme Court rejected a Ninth Circuit opinion in Stolt-Nielsen S. A. v. AnimalFeeds Int’l Corp., 559 U. S. 662 (2010) authorizing class arbitrations if it was “sound policy.” In Stolt-Nielson the arbitration agreement was silent on the subject of employees arbitrating as a class.

Lawyers for both sides stipulated to that fact. The Ninth Circuit decided the agreement could include class arbitrations essentially if it made sense under the circumstances. The Supreme Court disagreed and held the Federal Arbitration Agreement did not allow for such a reformation of the contract.

In Lamps Plus the Ninth Circuit took a different approach. In this case the arbitration agreement did not textually include an authorization for class arbitration. The court applied state contract law to the agreement and held the employees could arbitrate as a class because basic contract law construes ambiguity in the contract against the drafter–the employer.

The Ninth Circuit held, as the Supreme Court dissenters agreed, the Federal Arbitration Act did not create a federal contract law that overruled state contract law on the interpretation of a contract.

The Supreme Court majority agreed that the agreement was ambiguous but class arbitration holds a special place in arbitration law that allows it to preempt state contract law interpretations. The conservative majority relied on primarily its own opinions on class waivers in arbitration agreements to decide that an arbitration agreement only allows for class arbitrations if the text specifically allows it.

Why this matters for labor and employment law

For employees Lamps Plus is another step forward in the assault on access to the judicial forum and the ability to cast the bad acts of employers into the sunlight. It was a foregone conclusion that the Court would reject the Ninth Circuit’s position in this case given the conservative majority’s open hostility towards class actions and arbitration. Nevertheless, these decisions make it more difficult for employees to use their collective power to effect change in the workplace–which is another right deeply under attack by right-wing political forces in this country.

Employees should not give up fighting for their rights and pursue remedies of those violations under federal and Colorado law. Labor and employment law still gives employees rights and remedies and fighting for them raises the cost for every other employer to participate in unlawful and appalling behavior. If you believe your employer violated your workplace rights then you should contact Denver employment attorneys right away.