Recent events have highlighted the need for a better response to sick leave for employees. In Colorado, lawmakers have addressed that need by creating the Healthy Families and Workplaces Act. 

This law defines the amount of paid leave employers must provide and identifies how the state will enforce the requirements. The HFWA goes into effect Jan. 1, 2021. However, employers with 15 or fewer employees are exempt until Jan. 1, 2022. Erin Croke, an employment law attorney with Heckenbach Suazo, LLP, wrote an informational article regarding the Act, and some highlights are as follows:

Annual leave accrual

Employees may earn up to 48 hours of paid leave each year. This accumulates at a rate of one hour for every 30 hours the employee works. However, the employer has the discretion to allow the employee to take the leave at any point during the year. Forty-eight hours is the minimum, and employers may provide a more generous paid leave policy. 

Leave justification

Employees have the right to take leave when they or their family members require care. This includes circumstances where the employees or family members have a mental or physical issue that keeps them out of work, or when they need preventative care, diagnosis or treatment. 

Victims of domestic or other types of abuse or harassment may take paid leave to receive medical care or counseling for the issues arising from the abuse. Employees may also take paid leave to care for a family member who is a victim. 

In the event of a public health emergency that requires employees’ work, school or child care closure, they may take paid leave. The declaration of a public health emergency provides additional paid leave. The amount depends on whether the employee works full time or part time, and how many hours a part-time employee works. Crisis paid leave goes into effect if employees or family members contract or must stay at home due to exposure of the illness that is the reason for the public health emergency. 

Employee and employer rights and responsibilities

Employers must post notices about the new law and make sure employees understand their rights and responsibilities. Employers cannot retaliate against employees who need to use paid leave or require them to find replacements for themselves while they are out. 

Employees must give as much notice as possible. If they must be out of work for more than four days in a row, an employer can require them to provide documentation showing the leave is necessary. They do not have to provide specifics about the health condition or abuse situation, though. 

Enforcement

The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment’s Division of Labor Standards and Statistics investigates claims against employers and fines those that do not provide notification of the law to employees. Violations of the law may result in employee reinstatement and back pay. 

Employees may only file a lawsuit after providing a written demand to the employer or submitting a complaint to the Division. Where applicable, employees may recover promotions, pay increases, damages and costs such as legal fees.