Thanks to the Healthy Families and Workplace Act (HFWA), employees in Colorado have been entitled to 80 hours paid sick leave for issues relating to the COVID-19 pandemic since July 2020. The law states that employees are entitled to 80 hours of public health emergency leave, or PHEL. Now, thanks to bill SB20-205, Colorado employers must provide staff with paid sick leave for a variety of reasons.
Do All Employers Need to Pay Sick Leave?
Yes, but not right away if the sick leave doesn’t relate to the COVID-19 pandemic in some way. From January 1, 2021, the bill applies to employers with 16 or more employees. From January 1, 2022, that scope will expand to include all Colorado employers, regardless of size or industry.
This gives smaller businesses and startups a 12-month breathing space to understand their responsibilities and plan for times when their staff may be ill. Support with accounting and bookkeeping will be essential for companies that have never had to concern themselves with paid sick leave before.
What Constitutes Sick Leave?
Paid sick leave applies when an employee is absent from work for any of the following reasons:
- They are suffering from any illness or injury, mental or physical
- They need to obtain a medical diagnosis
- They need treatment such as a trip to a clinic or hospitalization
- They need time off to care for a sick relative
- They need to obtain preventive medical care
- The employee or a family member has suffered domestic abuse, assault including sexual assault, or harassment
- They have to stay home to educate their children due to an official school closure i.e., a school closure instigated by a public official
All these reasons are valid, plus of course, any reason relating directly to a public health emergency–such as the coronavirus situation. Additional sick leave is required for this, which we explain below.
How Much Sick Leave Do Employees Get?
Standard paid sick leave accrues at 1 hour per 30 hours worked. Employers aren’t obliged to provide their staff more than 48 hours paid sick leave per year. If an employee takes no paid sick leave in the year, they can carry that 48 hours over to the next year.
If a firm already has a generous sick leave policy in place that trumps the state requirement, they don’t have to top it up or add on 48 hours. The 48 hours per year policy is a baseline. Anything above this is at a company’s discretion.
Protection for Employees
Under Colorado law, employers are expected to advise employees of their rights and the employee’s right to exercise those rights appropriately. This includes telling employees in writing plus displaying the information prominently within the business premises, for example, on a poster. The best way to think about it is employees don’t suddenly have the right to be off work indiscriminately, but if the worst happens, they’re supported, financially and morally, and will be more likely to return to work happy and willing to jump straight back into it. That avoids staffing headaches and spending more money on recruiting and training. Supported employees are loyal employees.
Employees are protected from retaliation from unscrupulous employers. Some employers may seek to discourage employees from using their rights, using such methods as:
- Undesirable shift patterns
- Undesirable job allocation
- Isolating employees away from others
- Removing benefits not monitored under state law e.g., discounts or office perks
An employee would have the legal right to report this type of behavior and if an employer was found to be in violation of the law, they are liable for back pay and possibly other damages. It’s definitely in everyone’s interests to get up to speed with what the law entails and how it benefits everyone involved.
Employers are also not allowed to disclose the reasons why an employee may be taking paid sick leave. When you consider that this could include domestic abuse or sexual assault, that makes total sense.
The guidance around paid sick leave for Colorado employees is fairly clear, but firms that need further guidance can contact the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE). For more advice about a range of resources for staffing and recruitment companies, get in touch with Admin Assist and see how we could save your staffing company money, time, and hassle.