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.

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.

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.

What happens during a consultation with a Denver employment lawyer?

The start of most attorney-client relationships is the consultation. A consultation is not a uniform act across all law firms; they don’t teach how to have a consultation in law school. It is not a special process. It is just an initial meeting between lawyer and prospective client. Law firms treat consultations differently depending upon their intake process for prospective clients and what areas of law they work. The basic role of a consultation for employment lawyers is to understand the client’s situation and see if the law firm can help the client solve his or her problems. Let’s talk in more detail about the role of a consultation and what you might expect during a consultation with a Denver employment lawyer.

The role of a consultation with an employment lawyer

If you have never hired a lawyer to help you with a legal problem then you might be unsure what exactly happens during a consultation. The purposes of a consultation generally include:

  1. Gathering information about the client and the client’s legal problem;
  2. Assessing the client’s credibility as a potential client and witness;
  3. Explaining the attorney’s ability to help solve the legal problem;
  4. The attorney assessing whether to take the potential client on as a client;
  5. The potential client assessing whether to hire the attorney;
  6. The attorney selling legal services to the client;
  7. (Hopefully) forming an attorney-client relationship.

Some law firms focus more on the information gathering and may investigate or consider the case in more detail before moving forward with forming a business relationship, while others focus more on forming the relationship and then collecting more information later. Many firms do a lot of both processes during a consultation.

Whether the potential client is an employer or employee can affect the direction of the consultation. A Colorado employer might need an employment lawyer to work on an immediate problem or want an employment law specialist on retainer. A lawyer consulting with an employer might need to assess the situation differently. Employees normally seek employment lawyers because there is an immediate situation, such as a termination or unpaid wages, and the lawyer needs to assess whether there is a claim to pursue right now or to help the client prepare in the event the situation worsens. These situations all require probing for different types of information and assessing different courses of action with the potential client.

What to expect in a consultation with a Denver employment lawyer

Law firms in Colorado treat consultations differently depending upon their business model and drive for new clients. Do not expect that consultations with lawyers will all be exactly the same. Remember that employment lawyers use consultations to assess potential clients and their cases, which means they are making business decisions about cases during consultations.

Often people believe a consultation with an attorney is an opportunity to solicit advise or have questions answered about employment law or other topics. This is generally not the case. Typically lawyers do not offer extensive legal advice during a consultation beyond assessing the case and what steps may need to occur for a case to become viable. Providing legal advice to a client is normally part of the attorney-client relationship that forms after both attorney and potential client decide to form a business relationship.

Some employment lawyers may offer varying degrees of legal advice as part of assessing your situation and may be necessary to explain whether a case is worth pursuing. You should not be surprised if you contact a law firm seeking free legal advise or to provide you with explanations of employment law that the firm expects you to pay for their time to provide you legal counsel.

Denver employment lawyers

Should I have a paid or a free consultation with an employment lawyer?

Paying for a consultation is not indicative of whether the law firm or employment lawyer is qualified to assist you with your situation. Of course, everybody likes something for free and a free consultation is enticing. It is supposed to be. Law firms generally offer free consultations to entice people to schedule a consultation so the law firm can assess many potential clients and find good cases. By removing cost as a factor, it makes it more convenient for people to schedule a consultation because then the only cost involved to the potential client is time.

Free consultations generally arose from personal injury attorneys who practice in a highly competitive area of law in which a lot of money is often spent on marketing. Giving away a lawyer’s time to free consultations is not really free to the law firm because the lawyer could spend that time working on other cases or even taking paid consultations. The free consultation is a marketing cost to the firm. Due to the breadth of personal injury marketing people have often come to expect free consultations as a part of all legal counsel. This is not true. Most areas of law still use paid consultations. Employment law has become more competitive among law firms and part of that has driven free consultations into this area of law.

However, a paid consultation may be no different in terms of process or information provided. The law firm may charge for a consultation because it believes the potential client receives value in the assessment of the situation which definitely requires the lawyer’s skill and expertise. Law firms charging consultations may want to conserve their lawyers’ time to paid work (like most employers) or may want to limit their consultations to people willing to make an investment in their own case.

Whether you should pay for a consultation is not just a question of cost. You should also consider, among other factors, whether the law firm or its attorneys have the skills and expertise to help you with your situation. Looking at the larger picture, if you have a potential case worth thousands (or more), the initial cost of the consultation may be minimal compared to the overall potential recovery. Also consider that many labor and employment law claims allow plaintiffs to recover attorney’s fees which include the cost of the consultation.

 

2018 likely a big year for employment law in Colorado

We’re closing in on the end of the first quarter of 2018 which means the Colorado legislature is a little over halfway through its legislative session and the state courts are in full swing for the rest of the year. We’ve already seen a flurry of employment law activity in both the legislature and judiciary with more likely to come. Most employment law watchers have their eyes on the labor law appeals at SCOTUS but Colorado has a lot on the schedule for labor and employment law as well.

Colorado legislative employment law activity

Colorado is among several states where conservative lawmakers pursued bills seeking to undermine labor union presence and minimum wage protections. Thankfully in this state these bills appear dead for the session but other bills live on in the session. Among the labor and employment law legislation introduced this session include:

Immigration status. The House is currently perusing a bill to extend legal work status to undocumented workers in the state that meet specific requirements proving the worker’s history in this country has been positive.

FMLA insurance. Another House bill seeks to introduce an FMLA insurance program for wages. Under the proposed architecture small employee contributions would fund a wage replacement program for Colorado employees who take unpaid family and medical leave. Given the challenges created by the way the Colorado legislature designed its state FMLA statute to sit on top of the federal FMLA passage of this program could create new complications in the state’s family and medical leave law.

Non-compete exception for physicians. Physicians are generally better protected from overreaching non-compete agreements under Colorado law; however, they can be liable for damages caused by terminating the agreement. This Senate bill would create an exemption to damages for physicians to continue to provide care to patients with rare conditions.

Minimum wage waiver. In one of the more ridiculous legislative offerings a House representative offered a bill that would (1) require employers to notify job applicants of the right to negotiate minimum wage and (2) to negotiate a minimum wage less than the Colorado Constitution requires. The House committee quickly laughed at and destroyed this awful legislation.

Right to work bill. Not to limit their terribleness to just one bill, House Republicans introduced a bill to make Colorado a “right to work” state that allows workers to decline representation or membership in a union as a condition of employment. These bills are introduced by the GOP virtually every session but as usual this bill failed to reach a floor vote.

Gig workers are contractors. The Senate passed a bill last week that makes workers who find part-time jobs through online job marketplaces are contractors rather than employees. While many of these workers likely are contractors this bill seems more of a first step in expanding state law to make all workers in the gig economy contractors–surely a move backed by larger players in the field like Uber and Lyft who have been hit with misclassification lawsuits around the country.

Colorado courts employment law activity

If March is any indication how the Colorado Supreme Court feels about employment law it’s not a good sign for employees. This month Colorado’s highest court ruled against employee rights on small but important issues.

Teacher right to hearing before placement on unpaid leave overturned

The Colorado Supreme Court overturned an appeal on public school teacher rights to a hearing before being placed on unpaid leave. The teachers’ union asserted the Teacher Employment, Compensation and Dismissal Act of 1990 (TECDA) required a hearing before a teacher may be placed on unpaid leave. TECDA limits a teacher’s exposure to termination to specific reasons of just cause after a hearing, if the teacher completed the three year probationary period. The teachers’ union argued this created a due process right to a hearing on unpaid leave.

The court disagreed, holding that TECDA does not create a contract between the state and teachers, therefore the teachers lack a property interest in benefits and salary. Without a property interest the teachers do not have a violation of due process rights to assert. The result will be that school districts will obtain greater flexibility to eliminate teachers or force out teachers.

Statute of limitations on unpaid wage claims upon termination under the Colorado Wage Claim Act

In a case with broader implications, the Colorado Supreme Court also interpreted the Colorado Wage Claim Act (CWCA) to reduce the limitations period for claims of wages due upon termination. In Hernandez v. Ray Domenico Farms the court resolved the ambiguity over how far back an employee could seek unpaid wages due upon termination.

The CWCA sets a two year limitations period (extended to three if the violation is willful) for claims brought under the statute. (C.R.S. § 8-4-122.) Among the statutory claims is the right to be paid all due and unpaid wages upon termination. (C.R.S. § 8-4-109). The plaintiffs in this case, along with some Colorado courts, argued the limitations period reset with each instance of unpaid wages so the unpaid wages owed could extend as far back as the beginning of the employment relationship.

The Colorado Supreme Court disagreed, interpreting the CWCA similar to federal interpretations of limitations periods under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The court held the limitations period only reaches back two years (or three if willful) before the date of termination. The court noted that the limitations period begins to run with each set of wages due; so it is possible that an employee could pursue a claim under C.R.S. § 8-4-109 as late as three years after the date of termination. The Supreme Court did not clarify this point but it appears to be the intended interpretation of the court’s opinion.

What should we expect for the rest of 2018?

The rest of the year will likely be a mixed bag for employees, particularly with the SCOTUS decisions that will weigh on federal labor law issues. As usual movement on the legislative and judicial fronts will be incremental with judicial decisions drawing narrow interpretations of existing statutes and employer-friendly lawmakers pushing through small changes. Most of these smaller changes receive little attention which allows a long but effective pro-employer shift in labor and employment law.

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10 Ways to Find an Employment Lawyer

Denver Labor Law provided this quick slideshow presentation about ways to find an employment lawyer in Colorado and anywhere else. Searching for an employment law attorney can range from a quick search on your phone to mining your personal network for referrals. There is not a “right” way to identify an employment lawyer. It may be necessary to apply several ways described here to find a good list of employment law attorneys. You can schedule consultations with their law firms and select the attorney right for your needs.