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.

Do Colorado employees get paid for snow days?

With winter weather in full swing employees in Denver and other parts of Colorado wake up to a lot of snow and ice days. Employers make decisions to open for limited hours or to close entirely for those days. For some workers that can mean an extra day off; but for other employees that can mean losing work hours and badly needed pay. That can leave many employees wondering if work is closed on a snow day, do I get paid? The answer is sometimes depending upon the worker’s status as an employee or independent contractor and exempt or non-exempt. Let’s explore this answer for Colorado workers.

Exempt employees vs. Nonexempt employees

Rules for payment of wages to employees differ depending upon whether an employee is appropriately classified as an exempt or nonexempt employee under the Fair Labor Standards Act and Colorado employment law. Under federal and Colorado wage law an exempt employee is exempt from overtime pay and minimum wage rules. Exempt employees are generally salaried employees who meet one or more statutory exemptions.

An employee is not exempt merely because he or she receives pay on a salary basis or because the employer says the employee is exempt. Most nonexempt employees receive hourly pay on the basis of hours worked in the workweek; but there are employees properly classified as nonexempt who receive a salary. Many employers misclassify nonexempt employees as exempt employees which often results in unpaid overtime pay and minimum wage violations. If you believe you may be misclassified then you should talk to a Colorado unpaid wages lawyer right away.

Snow day pay for nonexempt employees in Colorado

Nonexempt employees are not entitled to pay for hours the employer closes a work site under federal or Colorado employment law. Nevertheless, you may receive wages for an inclement weather day under an employer’s voluntary policy or under a contracted benefit such as:

  • An employer’s elective policy to pay wages for an inclement weather day;
  • The employer allows employees to elect to receive vacation pay or other PTO instead of taking the snow day unpaid;
  • A collective bargaining agreement between your union and employer includes required paid time for inclement weather days;
  • An individual employment contract includes provisions requiring the employer to pay wages for inclement weather days.

You should review the employer’s handbook or any employment contract for these provisions.

Snow day pay for exempt employees in Colorado

The rules for salaried exempt employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act and Colorado employment law are more complex. Employers must pay salaried exempt employees within specific rules to maintain the exemption from overtime pay and minimum wage. If an employer violates these rules then the exemption is destroyed and the employer must pay the employee at least minimum wage plus overtime pay for applicable hours. One of these rules applies to situations where an employer closes for a partial or full day due to weather.

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act an employer generally must pay a salaried exempt employee for an entire week of pay if the employee worked any part of the workweek. Under this rule the employee must be willing to work but is unable to work due to conditions not caused by the employee. This certainly includes days the employer shuts down work, such as snow days. It also includes days in which weather prevents you from getting to the office but the employer is open. (By contrast, an employer can make deductions for narrow reasons, such as the salaried, exempt employee’s FMLA leave.) Although employers cannot deduct salaried exempt employee’s pay for snow days it may deduct the time the employer closes from the employee’s PTO bank.

Employment discrimination lawyers in Colorado

Independent Contractors in Colorado and snow day pay

Independent contractors are not employees and therefore only receive pay under the conditions of their contracts. Often contractors only receive pay for days they work or generally for performing services; therefore, it is not common for contractors to receive pay for snow days. Independent contractors must review the terms of their contracts to determine whether the contract gives them snow day pay.

However, it is common for employers to misclassify employees as independent contractors to avoid employee rights laws and wage requirements. Misclassified employees may have remedies against their employer including overtime pay and FMLA rights. If you believe your employer misclassified you as an independent contractor then you should talk to a Colorado unpaid wages lawyer right away.

Labor and employment law bills proposed in the 2019 Colorado legislative session

Colorado starts 2019’s legislative session with a healthy list of 227 proposed bills, many including provisions affecting the state’s labor laws and employment laws. Today’s post will briefly identify and discuss the major Colorado labor law and employment law changes proposed so far this year. Denver labor law will update as these bills move through the legislature and potentially become law.

Denver public school teachers on the verge of strike

For the past year, teachers in the Denver public school system have negotiated with administrators over a new bargained agreement covering their employment with little success. As the current CBA reaches expiration on January 18, employees face a strike vote on the following day. If Denver teachers vote to strike it may leave Denver public schools with the choice to close schools temporarily, replace teachers with short term replacements or bargain to give its teachers appropriate compensation. The final negotiation sessions before the strike take place this week ahead of the expiration of the current CBA. The teachers’ union has already informed the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment of its intent to strike, as required by the Colorado Peace Act.

Denver teachers currently receive compensation through a complicated formula of base salary and bonuses. The existing collective bargaining agreement, like many educational CBAs, includes lanes for salary compensation that reward teachers for continued education and tenure in addition to cost of living adjustments. Additionally, Denver teachers receive bonuses based upon several additional factors, such as teaching in underserved areas and school performance. The bonuses are funded from a local tax initiative for this purpose. Any bargained agreement lacking these bonuses will result in losing access to that revenue for teacher compensation. This compensation program is known as ProComp.

Downtown Denver, Colorado

The divide between the Denver teachers’ union and Denver Public Schools

The Denver Public School system and the Denver teachers’ union (Denver Classroom Teachers Association) remain at odds over several basic issues. The Denver teachers’ union wants to increase funding for compensation, simply the compensation structure, move more funding into base pay rather than bonuses and create salary lanes making it possible for ambitious teachers to earn $100,000 in compensation. The Denver Public School system, like any employer, wants to add far less to teacher pay and maintain the bonus structure. This represents an extremely common divide in labor law negotiations.

The Denver teachers’ union is not fighting for more pay for the sake of simply increasing member compensation. Denver teachers are underpaid compared to surrounding districts and face higher costs of living to live in the same district where they teach–even with regular cost of living pay adjustments. This has the result of driving successful teachers out of Denver schools and into other surrounding Colorado districts. It also causes many teachers to have to live outside of Denver, increasing their commute and diminishing their ownership of the success of their schools. The lack of financial predictability in pay also makes it harder for teachers to plan appropriately for their financial future.

Denver school administrators talk a good game about wanting to improve these problems but so far fail to put enough of the district’s $1 billion budget towards one of its most important assets. Predictably school officials want to maintain a complex formula based on bonuses because it forces teachers to absorb the consequences of administrative failings by tying their compensation to school success. It also has the effect of reducing overall compensation by preventing teachers from accumulating an increasingly higher salary over time. 

These are not hypothetical problems justifying improving Denver teacher pay. Comparisons of compensation structures between Denver and other school districts reflects underpaid Denver teachers. The high turnover of teachers as they flee Denver for more pay is not hypothetical. It is a real and statistically proven problem. High turnover creates several problems for the Denver school district:

  • Schools lose institutional knowledge of the students at the school and loses long term bonds with the local community;
  • Teachers with the best qualifications are able to find better paying jobs elsewhere, lowering the quality of teachers remaining in the schools;
  • Tenure of teachers at Denver schools declines which reduces the level of experience from which younger teachers can learn;
  • The Denver district spends more resources recruiting and training teachers which are lost as teachers leave for other districts, making each teacher more expensive despite not increasing compensation; and
  • Teachers have less incentive to invest personally in the performance of the school when they expect to leave in a few years for another district.

Why Denver teachers should strike if Denver Public Schools cannot agree to a fair negotiation package

Denver teachers deserve a fair compensation structure for their work that reflects their value to the community. If teachers are expected to be professionals working in a major city then they should be appropriately compensated as such. Denver school administrators should treat the investment of public resources into recruiting and training teachers as an important investment in the city. A compensation structure that treats teachers as fungible and a burden to the city does not improve Denver schools.

Teachers in Denver should strike if a fair agreement cannot be reached. Denver school officials will feel no pressure to move the terms of their proposal as long as they feel teachers will eventually cave. A labor strike will put school officials on a clock to figure out how to deal with the problem or face a school district without teachers. It will also add publicity to the dispute and motivate parents to push the district towards finding a solution. Teachers around the country face similar problems (including the extremely similar situation currently in Los Angeles). Each union that strikes over unfair compensation will put the next district on notice that it needs to deal fairly with the union or face similar consequences.

Colorado Labor and Employment Law 2019 Outlook

Predicting twelve months of legal changes, even in labor law or employment law, is a tough game in 2019. We have an unpredictable White House, a recent change to the U.S. Supreme Court and turnover in the U.S. House and Colorado Senate in favor of Democrats. It may simply be too early to tell how 2019 will treat Colorado, if only because we do not even know what bills legislators will submit to the federal and state legislatures. That said, we can look at the changes for 2019 in existing federal and Colorado law and at least set up some basic predictions about how labor and employment law may change for Coloradans this year.

Changes to federal labor law and employment law in 2019

Federal employment law changes are already on the books for the administrative agencies. Executive Order 13658 increases minimum wage for federal contractors to $10.60/hour (or $7.40/hour for tipped employees who suffer the tip credit). Beginning January 14, 2019, 45 C.F.R. § 147.132 and 45 C.F.R. § 147.133 allow certain private employers to opt out of federally required contraceptive coverage if the employer has a sincere moral or religious objection to covering contraceptives on the employer’s health insurance plan.

Additionally, the EEOC published new rules on wellness program incentives that take effect on the first day of 2019. Previously employers were permitted under EEOC guidance to grant employees up to a 30% discount on health insurance premiums if the employee participated in an employer-sponsored wellness program without violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA). In late 2018 a federal district court ruled the incentive rules could render a wellness program involuntary and run afoul the ADA and GINA.

Changes under Colorado labor law and employment law for 2019

Colorado state law will also see a significant change. Beginning January 1, 2019, a minimum wage increase goes into effect. In 2016 Amendment 70 to the Colorado Constitution was passed by voters establishing a new minimum wage regime for the state. Each year through 2020 minimum wage increases by a fixed amount. Subsequent years will increase with inflation. The 2019 Colorado minimum wage is $11.10/hourly. (Read here to learn more about the Colorado minimum wage for 2019 and years forward.) Colorado joins twenty-one other states increasing minimum wage above the federal minimum wage in 2019. 

What 2019 will likely bring for federal labor law and employment law

Predicting 2019 for labor law and employment law is not necessarily an easy task given the changes in the legislature, Supreme Court and the White House. The interplay between Democratic control of the House and Republican control of the rest of the federal government is already on play with the shutdown. Who knows how that will continue to unfold until the Dems put in motion their legislative agenda for the year. The current administration would surprise few to continue to unwind Obama administration DOL regulations. 

Federal shutdown’s effect on labor and employment law

The current federal shutdown is certain to have some effect on federal labor and employment law issues. Although courts remain open through a shutdown, many labor and employment law agencies close, including the EEOC. That can create problems filing administrative complaints for employment discrimination claims, among other administrative remedies. Federal employees in particular who believe they have labor or employment law-related complaints should contact an employment law attorney right away. Do not assume the shutdown of an agency means filing deadlines for complaints are suspended. That is often not the case.

Anti-union activist support

Across the country we should expect to see continued challenges to the validity and activity of public unions. In 2018’s awful Janus decision the Supreme Court trashed public union agency fees and set the tone for anti-union activists that they would find an ally in the current SCOTUS majority. 

Sexual harassment lawsuits

2017 and 2018 saw a rise in sexual harassment lawsuits as part of the #metoo movement and Weinstein effect. These lawsuits are likely to continue through 2019 although new high profile cases may wane with the Supreme Court’s 2018 activity. It’s hard to imagine Brett Kavanaugh’s contentious confirmation hearings was not a serious wound to the spreading belief that the #metoo movement was stamping out the acceptability of sexual harassment.

Perhaps more importantly, SCOTUS decided a trio of cases last year affirming the use of class action waivers in employment arbitration agreements. These class action waivers permit employers to push class actions out of litigation into private arbitration forums where they will avoid publicity of the details of the case, not to mention the final outcome. Employers fearing class action sexual harassment lawsuits likely will add these waivers to their arbitration agreements or review existing waiver to ensure complicity with the Supreme Court opinions. 

Predictions for Colorado labor and employment law in 2019

Colorado labor law and employment law will likely see changes in 2019 as well, particularly with Democrats obtaining control of both houses of the state legislature and the executive. Every legislative session House Democrats propose pro-employee and pro-labor bills that were generally blocked by the Republican-controlled Colorado Senate. Now that Democrats control both houses they should be able to pass many of these bills. We do not yet know what the legislative agenda will include for the Colorado legislature but we can predict two likely areas of labor and employment law that will appear in 2019.

Colorado minimum wage changes

In addition to the constitutional minimum wage change for 2019 across the state, this may be the year Democrats pass legislation to allow cities to set their own minimum wage. Senate Republicans blocked this frequent proposal but now Dems may get their wish to push through more flexibility across the state. Liberal cities like Denver and Boulder are likely to raise minimum wage to $15/hour if given the opportunity. 

Marijuana laws and employment

Denver marijuana employment laws

Colorado has been an important place for the intersection of marijuana legalization and employment, particularly since the 2015 decision in Coats v. Dish Network. Colorado Democrats may push legislation this year to resolve the unfortunate result in Coats by statutorily prohibiting employers from adversely using a marijuana-positive drug test in employment decisions. 

There also appears strong momentum behind proposals to erase pre-legalization marijuana possession convictions. Boulder and Denver indicated intent to make these changes through judicial means. There is also a lot of talk among Colorado legislators to enact state-wide legislation erasing these convictions. That could substantially help workers in the job market held back by marijuana possession convictions. 

 

What is considered a living wage in Colorado?

Living wage has been a growing issue in labor politics and economic discussions in this country, particularly as unions and other worker groups began aggressively championing raising minimum wage over the past few years. Living wages are of concern here in Colorado as rent and home prices soared over the past decade. When living costs in Denver and other Colorado cities exceed local wages it prices workers out of their homes. Rising costs partially drove the push to increase Colorado minimum wage; however, minimum wage often fails to provide a living wage for Colorado workers. Today’s post will explore what is considered a living wage in Colorado and some of the legal concerns that arise in the debate.

What is a living wage?

A living wage is the hourly rate an individual must earn to support his or her family when that person is the sole provider and works full time. Living wage is not the same thing as minimum wage. Minimum wage is a minimum amount an employer may pay to an employee covered by the minimum wage law for work. Living wage considers the costs to that family to meet their minimum needs for self-sufficiency where the family lives. These costs change across regions rather than assume equal costs across the board. Note that a living wage is not a calculation of the wage necessary to live comfortably or move up the economic ladder.

Typically economists calculate living wages in light of the size of the family supported by the sole provider. For example, a Colorado employee without a significant other or children needs to earn far less than an employee supporting a family of four. This is for obvious reasons. Feeding four people costs more than one. Therefore, living wage varies not only by location but also by the size of the family supported.

Living wage in Denver, for example, requires a single employee to earn $12.95 which is above the current minimum wage. If that employee supports another adult and two children that number rises to $28.01, almost three times minimum wage. See your local living wage calculated using this calculator from MIT.

Colorado labor law final paycheck infographic

Colorado minimum wage vs. living wage

Minimum wage laws began as a way to end sweatshops and require employers to pay a living wage. Generally over time minimum wage laws in the United States failed to keep up with living wage requirements. Federal minimum wage set by the Fair Labor Standards Act is far below the living wage calculated in most parts of the country. Twenty-nine states have state minimum wages higher than federal law, including Colorado. Amendment 70 to the Colorado Constitution set minimum wage on a stair step to 2020 when increases tie to inflation.

Employees earning the Colorado minimum wage may still not reach a living wage. Considerations for calculating living wage include home prices, rent costs, utilities, food, transportation and healthcare. Although these are basic costs they do not include many expenses that Colorado employees may face. Nor do they include other financial considerations like retirement savings or entertainment.

Considerations for Colorado living wage

A living wage is not uniform across Colorado. Basic family expenses vary considerably across the state. For example, rent and home prices in Denver are far more expensive than most rural parts of Colorado. As expenses increase, so too does the living wage required to afford those expenses. Living wage is not always a linear increase with the urban density. For example, the Colorado Springs metro area requires only a slight decrease from the Denver metro area. Generally, however, urban areas are more expensive than rural areas in Colorado.

An important issue in Colorado is that living expenses are increasing at a rapid rate compared to wages. Studies of government data reflect living expenses increased three times as fast as wages. You can easily see how this happened with the explosion of both home and rent costs compared to even the increase in Colorado minimum wage. This is not a Denver problem. Growth in other large Colorado cities like Greeley, Loveland and Pueblo face the same struggles. Urbanization is not the only factor driving higher living costs. Many mountain communities have high living wages due to expensive housing costs, particular around tourist destinations.

A living wage in Colorado

Colorado employees must consider their location and how local cost variance affects their ability to support their families. The size of the family and location are key issues in self-sufficiency. An individual employee in Colorado needs to earn between $10.75 and $13 hourly just to sustain basic living costs. Note that even the lowest cost area of the state is above the Colorado minimum wage. For a family of four the living wage ranges from $24.00 to $29.00 far above the state minimum wage.

Unfortunately two income households do not fare better on minimum wage. In Denver a two income household with no children needs two earners making $10.55 hourly which is still above minimum wage. In lower cost areas a two income household with no children earn a living wage at minimum wage but fall below if they have a child.

This demonstrates how financially precarious life can be for many Colorado families. Lost wages or a lost job can send a family already struggling to meet their basic needs into complete financial collapse.

Legal issues and a living wage in Colorado

Families earning at or below a living wage in Colorado often work jobs at or near minimum wage. They may rely upon working multiple jobs (full or part time) and earning overtime pay. An employer refusing to pay wages earned by employees can have substantial effect on the employees and their families.

Employers who pay non-exempt employees below minimum wage steal from their workers and violate federal and state minimum wage laws. Employees in this situation have rights under federal and state law to recover unpaid wages through administrative or judicial means.

The same happens when employers fail to pay overtime pay owed to non-exempt employees. Employees earn overtime pay under federal and state wage laws. This is a higher rate of pay than minimum wage or the employee’s regular rate of pay. Employees can recover unpaid overtime pay through Colorado administrative procedures or in court.

Employers also sometimes fail to pay wages at all. Some ways employers fail to pay wages owed include:

  • Not issuing paychecks at all;
  • Failure to pay a final paycheck;
  • Shifting hours from one workweek to another to turn overtime hours into regular pay hours;
  • Removing hours from timesheets;
  • Requiring employees to work off the clock during lunches or before/after shifts;
  • Deducting hours or pay for impermissible deductions.

If your employer failed to pay some or all of your wages then you have rights to recover unpaid wages and other relief under federal and state wage laws. These laws may allow you to recover liquidated damages doubling the amount of unpaid wages, out of pocket losses caused by the failure to pay wages, attorney’s fees and court costs.

Additionally, your employer may not retaliate against you for complaining about or reporting unpaid wages. If your employer terminates you or takes other legal action for complaining about unpaid wages or reporting unpaid wages to a government agency then you have rights to recover for lost wages and other harm.

If you believe any of these unlawful acts occurred to you then you should talk to an unpaid wage lawyer in Colorado right away. An employment lawyer can advise you on your rights and how to proceed to receive the wages you earned. Speak to an unpaid wage lawyer as soon as possible. Many wage claims have short periods that require you to act to preserve your claim. The longer you wait to talk to a lawyer the more you risk not receiving the wages you earned.

Denver marijuana employment laws

Colorado Lawmakers to Consider Prohibiting Marijuana-Related Employment Discrimination

Colorado made news in 2015 when the lawsuit involving Dish Network firing an employee for marijuana use was upheld by the Colorado Supreme Court. In 2012 Dish Network fired Brandon Coats, a paralyzed medical marijuana patient, for failing a drug test. He filed a lawsuit under Colorado Revised Statutes 24-34-402.5. The Colorado Supreme Court held the language of the statute prohibiting employers from terminating employees for engaging in lawful activity did not apply to conduct unlawful under federal law. Denver NORML is pushing for legislation to amend C.R.S. 24-34-402.5 to protect employees from termination for off-premises marijuana use.

 

Coats v. Dish Network

In Coats v. Dish Network the Colorado Supreme Court considered whether C.R.S. 24-34-402.5 protects activity lawful under state law but not federal law. This statute generally prohibits employers from firing or otherwise taking an adverse employment action against the employee on the basis of lawful activity during off-work hours. Under the statute employees can still be terminated for lawful activity during work hours. Coats argued through his attorney that Colorado had legalized his medical marijuana therefore his use was lawful. The Colorado Supreme Court took the opposite position holding that the statute did not prevent employers from taking action against an employee for activity that was unlawful under federal law.

Proposed legislation to change the outcome in future marijuana employment cases

Denver NORML proposes legislation that extends Colorado’s Unfair Employment Practices statute (C.R.S. 24-34-402.5) to protect employees from adverse employment acts by the employer for using marijuana off work hours or from testing positive for marijuana in a drug test. The proposed legislation will still allow employers to take action against an employee who uses marijuana at work or is under the influence of the drug at work. The advocacy organization will begin lobbying for the legislation this winter. The proposed statute is sure to find opposition from the business community in the state who expect a high degree of servitude from their employees. This proposed statute is similar to a law already enacted in Maine for the same purpose.

Contacting a Denver employment lawyer

If you believe your employer took adverse employment action against you on the basis of off duty activity then you should talk to a Denver employment lawyer right away. Employees in Colorado are generally protected from termination and other adverse employment acts on the basis of off-duty activities. Although for now partaking in marijuana is not protected by the Colorado Revised Statutes, it will likely only be a matter of time before Colorado employment law changes to align with the state’s legalization. State or federal law may provide other claims related to your off-duty activities. Contact a Denver employment lawyer to discuss your situation.