DENVER — Friday brings a new year and also the onset of several new laws in Colorado. The laws range from equal pay to employee sick pay to tenant rights. Here’s a look at a few of the new laws that kick in on Jan. 1.
Equal Pay for Equal Work
Employers will face new requirements Jan. 1 when it comes to posting job opening and promotions that are available within the company.
SB19-085 was signed into law in 2019 and is aimed at preventing wage discrimination between employees for performing the same duties.
“That’s really what the bill is getting at, is make sure that things are an equal playing field no matter what gender you are,” said Rep. Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez, D-Denver, one of the bill’s co-sponsors.
The new law requires employers to post a salary range with the job opening so applicants can know right away how much they would earn.
It also requires employers to post about promotion opportunities within the company so that employees have a chance to apply.
“It also has provisions that don’t allow for any kind of retaliation for employees when they discuss their pay. I think that’s been kind of an unsaid thing ... that you don’t talk about how much you make,” Gonzales-Gutierrez said.
Beyond that, the new law prohibits employers from asking an applicant about their salary history. Gonzales-Gutierrez says this prior practice could result in employees being compensated less based on what they were making before rather than the salary the job is worth.
Lorrie Ray, the director of member engagement from the Employer’s Council says state positions have been following these practices even before the law went into effect. However, the new law will be a big change for many private employers.
“This is going to be quite a shock, culturally, for many of them, especially posting the pay range for positions. That seems to be something they’re just not accustomed to,” Ray said.
She believes the new law will narrow the opportunity to negotiate salaries substantially.
“It’s also going to be a very steep learning curve for employers because it’s just so different and it’s such a different mindset,” she said.
Employers were given a year before the law kicked in to make sure their pay, hiring and promotion practices are in compliance.
Sick Leave for Employees
A second bill that kicks in on Jan. 1 requires employers to offer 48 hours of paid sick leave for employees.
SB20-205 stemmed from the COVID-19 pandemic and allows employees to begin accruing paid sick leave as soon as their employment begins. That sick leave can then be carried forwards in subsequent calendar years up to 48 hours.
“What we’ve built is a culture of coming to work sick because people have to choose between coming to work sick or paying the rent,” said Rep. Matt Gray, D-Broomfield. “We are working to try to create a culture of letting people be home when they’re sick.”
Employees will be able to use the sick leave for a mental or physical illness, to care for a sick family member, for instances of domestic abuse or assault, or in instances where a child’s school has been closed.
It also prohibits employers from retaliating against an employee for using that sick leave.
“These policies make sense to make sure that we’re supporting employees and employers to make sure when you’re sick and when you’re not feeling well that you’re staying home,” said Sen. Faith Winter, D-Westminster.
Ray says she doesn’t believe this new law will be a major issue for most businesses.
“Most employers have some sort of paid sick leave that they provide employees. They may not have 48 hours of sick leave, but they’ve got typically at least 80 hours that they provide employees for vacation,” Ray said.
Another new law that came out of the COVID pandemic expands the qualifications for who can apply for unemployment insurance.
SB20-207 allows three additional groups of people to apply for unemployment relief:
-Employees who are immunocompromised and who do not feel they can continue to work safely can apply.
-Employees who are primary caregivers for children whose school was shut down due to the pandemic and who need to stay home to be with them can also apply.
-Employees whose workplace is not following COVID safety protocols and who feel they cannot work safely can also apply for unemployment relief under the new law.
“We know there’s a lot of people making really hard decisions about their employment right now and those are three new qualifications for accessing unemployment,” Winter said.
Along with offering more unemployment options for employees, the new law also removes the cap on the amount of money that can be paid into the employment support fund and prohibits the division from assessing solvency surcharges for the 2021 and 2022 calendar years.
Gray considers the new law more of an omnibus because along with providing short-term relief, he says it also creates more long-term solvency by increasing the amount of money in the unemployment insurance program.
Another new law that will go into effect on Jan. 1 prohibits landlords from asking a tenant about their citizenship status.
Gonzales-Gutierrez says SB20-224 stemmed from an incident where an immigrant who came to the U.S. as a child was asked about his immigration status and country of origin while filling out an application and was denied housing,
The new law prohibits landlords from including the question on a housing application.
“It’s just a creates less of a barrier for people to be able to access housing. And really, what this bill does is it prohibits landlords from essentially asking about your citizenship status, which is something they don’t need to be able to lease or rent out a unit or home to someone,” Gonzales-Gutierrez said.
The new law does not get rid of credit checks for those seeking housing.
Health Care Coverage Easy Enrollment
Another new law that kicks off in the new year aims at making the enrollment process for health care coverage, particularly for people using Colorado’s state exchange, easier to understand.
HB20-1236 creates an easy enrollment program to offer free or subsidized health care coverage for people who are uninsured.
“The goal was to make sure that we’re covering as many people as possible with the tools that we already have in place like Medicaid,” said Rep. Susan Lontine, D-Denver, one of the bill’s co-sponsors.
The program allows people to request on their state tax returns for the Colorado health benefit exchange to assess whether they are eligible for free or subsidized health insurance. The tax filer will also receive information about their coverage options.
Lontine says she understands how confusing applying for health care coverage can be.
“There are a lot of options out there and knowing what’s best for you and what you can afford and what plan gives your family the best coverage for their specific needs is tough,” Lontine said.
The new law also creates an affordable health care coverage easy enrollment advisory committee to help guide the implementation of this program.
Although the new law goes into effect on Jan. 1, most won’t see the benefits of it until after they file their 2020 taxes later in the year.
Starting Jan. 2, retail marijuana stores will be able to begin delivery if it has been approved in the local jurisdiction under HB19-1234. Medical marijuana delivery began last year.
HB20-1080 will take effect Jan. 1, which eliminates the residency requirements for employee licenses, as well HB20-1424, which provides the authority to establish at social equity program within the state’s Marijuana Enforcement Division to increase the diversity of owner licenses and begin an accelerator program.