Bill would require Colorado employers grant paid sick leave for more reasons

A view of the Colorado House of Representatives chamber from the balcony

Colorado employers would have to allow workers to use paid sick leave for more reasons other than personal illness under a bill that is on its way to Gov. Jared Polis’ desk.

Since the 2022 implementation of the Healthy Families and Workplace Act, all companies are required to allow workers to earn an hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked, up to a maximum of 48 hours a year. In addition to dealing with their own illnesses, workers can use the time to take care of ailing family members, to deal with domestic abuse or to care for their children if schools and daycare facilities close due to a public health emergency.

Senate Bill 17, sponsored by Sen. Faith Winter, D-Westminster, would permit use of the earned time for three more reasons. Workers could take paid sick leave to care for kids whose schools are closed due to inclement weather or power outages, evacuate their residences during natural disasters or deal with the death of a family member.

A bill for women

Colorado state Rep. Jenny Willford speaks on a bill on the House floor earlier this month.

Rep. Jenny Willford, the Northglenn Democrat who cosponsored the measure in the House, said that working parents suffer financially when they are forced to take unpaid time from their jobs to deal with unexpected occurrences beyond their control. Particularly because women are more likely to be the parent who deals with caring for children, even when both parents work, allowing them to use paid time off for such situations is an equity issue, Willford said.

“Expanding the use of paid sick time will allow families to have increased agency about how they use this time,” said Kaitlin Altone, 9to5 Colorado organizer, in a March 23 House Business Affairs and Labor Committee hearing, noting paid leave is essential to low-wage female workers.

Business organizations did not press hard to defeat the bill, with many noting that employers tend to grant such time-off requests already with an understanding of how child-care and family emergencies can arise quickly in some situations. They were more worried that most of the $104,281 being set aside to enforce the new law was to come from the unemployment-tax-funded Employment Support Fund, but legislators added an amendment Monday directing the money to be taken instead from the General Fund.

That funding still was a source of puzzle, with Rep. Judy Amabile, D-Boulder, questioning during a committee hearing why the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment would need so much to enforce more time off, saying she figured complaints against bosses might go down. But a fiscal note from the nonpartisan Legislative Council predicted CDLE wil see a 6% rise in complaints about alleged HFWA violations, as it did after a November executive order expanded use of the law for respiratory illnesses, meaning there could be 30 new complaints a year.

Paid sick leave one more burden

Of greater concern to House Republicans was SB 17 adding to a growing list of regulations on employer-employee relations, including a bill this year to ban asking job applicants their age and another proposal beefing up the Equal Pay for Equal Work law. Rep. Rick Taggart, R-Grand Junction, argued allowances for emergency time off have been standard talks handled between bosses and workers without state interference and said that at some point the government must trust that business owners treat employees with respect.

Colorado state Rep. Lisa Frizzel speaks Friday about the bill to expand allowable uses of paid sick leave.

“I’m concerned about all the stances we sometimes take in this chamber that businesses, business owners and managers don’t care about their employees — and that we attempt to legislate for that stance,” said Rep. Lisa Frizell, R-Castle Rock.

The House passed SB 17 Friday on a 41-22 vote. Democratic Reps. Bob Marshall of Highlands Ranch, Barbara McLachlan of Durango, Marc Snyder of Manitou Springs and Alex Valdez of Denver joined most Republicans in voting against the proposal, while GOP Rep. Rose Pugliese of Colorado Springs joined other Democrats in backing the bill.

In mid-March, SB 17 passed the Senate on a fully partisan, Democratic-led vote. Legislative observers expect Polis, a Democrat, to sign it into law.