Bill would require employers offers workers suicide-prevention education

Colorado state Rep. Stephanie Vigil presents House Bill 1015 to the House Business Affairs and Labor Committee on Wednesday.

Suicide-prevention advocates want Colorado workplaces to take a more active role in their efforts, and a bill advancing through the Legislature would generate such collaboration through a combination of mandates and free-material offerings.

House Bill 1015, sponsored by Colorado Springs Democrat and suicide-attempt survivor Rep. Stephanie Vigil, would require employers to hang posters in their facilities and include in employee handbooks education materials about suicide prevention. It also would require Colorado’s Office of Suicide Prevention to create a website that would provide information about workplace suicide prevention, which employers could use if they want.

Employers currently must hang posters in breakrooms or other commonly accessed places in their facilities that explain employee rights, including job-safety requirements, wage laws and access to paid family and medical leave. HB 1015 would mandate a new poster and educational materials that include information on the 988 suicide and crisis lifeline, an overview of multiple suicide-prevention training programs and a QR code and website link to the Office of Suicide Prevention.

What employers would have to do

Vigil emphasized to the House Business Affairs and Labor Committee that he mandate would come at no cost to employers, as the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment would create and dispense posters and educational materials. But the first-term legislator said employers’ assistance is needed to get the information out in a site like workplaces where many people gather and to require workers to see and think about it outside of home settings where people often avoid discussing suicide.

“Everything we are learning about effective suicide prevention is that it has to be named. We have to talk about it,” said Vigil, who acknowledged attempting suicide in 2010 and surviving six hospitalizations over the ensuing five years. “Just getting this conversation started is the thrust of this bill.”

Colorado Chamber of Commerce Senior Vice President of Government Relations Meghan Dollar offers testimony Wednesday on House Bill 1015.

HB 1015 allows CDLE to fine employers for failing to post the materials in a conspicuous and accessible location or distribute materials to workers. And while employers have expressed some concerns about why the responsibility to educate state residents about suicide prevention should fall on them, more have expressed worries about how they must comply with the law to avoid penalties.

Questions from business leaders

The bill, for example, requires employers, beginning in July 2025, to include copies of the notice that would be produced by CDLE with their employment handbook or manual and to get workers to sign an acknowledgement of having been provided the notice. At a time when so many workers are remote, Colorado Chamber of Commerce Senior Vice President of Government Affairs Meghan Dollar asked Vigil to amend HB 1015 to state explicitly that such notices may be sent and acknowledged via email.

“We believe that if we have electric communications, not only will this bill be easier for employers to comply with, but the message will reach more employees,” Dollar told committee members.

Vigil declined to add that amendment to the bill on Friday, saying that discussions are ongoing with CDLE over whether such an addition is necessary or whether electronic communications for remote workers are implicitly permitted under state law. But several committee members urged its addition as the bill moves along, with Democratic Chairwoman Judy Amabile, D-Boulder, asking, “What is the harm with that?”

Why should employers talk about suicide?

Colorado state Rep. Lisa Frizzle asks questions Wednesday about a suicide-prevention education bill.

Rep. Lisa Frizell, R-Castle Rock, said she worried that HB 1015 is taking a broad-brush approach to requiring something from employers when it may be more effective to allow professional organizations to work with industries that could be impacted the most.

But several officials from the Suicide Prevention Collaborative of El Paso County said that to reduce suicide attempts, notification and discussion of the problem must seep into communities like those created by workplaces. Information that bosses post in common areas takes on special significance for many workers, collaborative chairwoman Cass Walton said.

“It will provide much-needed information for employers and employees,” added Nicole Johnston, a project manager with the collaborative. “The workplace is a large system that can impact so many people.”

Even as they encouraged Vigil to add the Chamber-requested amendment, all Republicans on the committee joined with Democrats to advance the bill to the House Appropriations Committee by an 11-0 tally. The vote came six days after the same committee unanimously advanced another bill to ban the sale of sodium nitrite to individuals in a concentration that is high enough to be lethal after a number of people have procured the substance to commit suicide.