A summary of Colorado Whistleblower laws
Colorado is an at-will employment state like many other states. However, Colorado has statutory and common law protections put in place to protect whistleblowers from all kinds of retaliation. Statutory protections are enacted by the legislature to cover specific subject areas such as wages, whereas common law protections cover cases that are not defined in the statutory protections.
This is a summary of Colorado Whistleblower Laws, make sure to check out the Federal Whistleblower Laws as well.
Whistleblower Rights in Colorado
In Colorado, a public policy exception is applied to the employment-at-will doctrine as a remedy. This means employees cannot be discharged for reasons that violate the state’s public policy. To determine if an employer’s actions violate public policy, the state’s courts will look for guidance from similar statutes and constitutional provisions. For example, if an employer discharges an employee in retaliation for filing a workers’ compensation claim, a court can find the employer guilty of violating public policy that gives employees the right to compensation in case of work-related injury or disability.
Statutory Protections for Whistleblowers in Colorado
Under this statute, it is illegal for a supervisor or an appointing authority to carry out disciplinary action against an employee in retaliation for the employee disclosing information regarding a violation of policies or laws to the relevant authority. Also, employees are obligated to disclose the information in good faith to an appointing authority, supervisor, or member of the general assembly before officially disclosing the information to the relevant authority. Colo. Rev. Stat. § 24-50.5-103
Private Sector employees
No appointing authority or supervisor of a private enterprise under contract with a state agency is allowed to carry out disciplinary action against an employee in retaliation for the employee disclosing information concerning illegal policies or unlawful actions carried out by the said enterprise. Also, employees who disclose information to a fraud hotline administered by the state auditor are protected under this statute. Employees are obligated to disclose the information in good faith to an appointing authority, supervisor, or member of the general assembly before officially disclosing the information to the relevant authority. Colo. Rev. Stat. § 24-114-102
It is illegal for an employer to discharge or threaten to discharge, or in any way discriminate against an employee because the employee serves in a wage board, participates in its formation, or has testified or is intending to testify in a proceeding or investigation related to Colorado’s minimum wage laws. Colo. Rev. Stat. § 8-6-115.
No employer shall discharge, or in any way discriminate against an employee in retaliation for filing a complaint, instituting a proceeding, or testifying or intending to testify in a proceeding concerning the state’s wage laws on behalf of himself, herself, or others. Colo. Rev. Stat. § 8-4-120.
Public Health Emergency Whistleblower (PHEW) Law
Employers are prohibited from discriminating or taking adverse action in retaliation for:
- Raising concerns about a violation of the state’s workplace health and safety practices or significant hazards that pose a threat to the safety of workers and the general public. The statute says complaints can be raised to a principal, the principal’s agent, other workers, a government agency, or to the public if the workplace health and safety practices are below the standards required by federal and state laws or a local public health agency.
- Wearing personal protective equipment at the workplace (e.g., gloves and face mask).
- Opposing unlawful practices or making a charge, testifying, or participating in a proceeding or hearing related to unlawful practices. HB 20-1415.
Healthy Families and Workplaces Act
Under this act, employers are not allowed to discriminate or in any way retaliate against an employee for using his or her sick leave or for exercising his or her rights under this act.
The rights are:
- Until December 31, 2020, all employers are required to provide paid sick leave of up to 2 weeks (80 hrs.) to employees who have been directly or indirectly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Employers will be required to provide sick leave for all their employees for up to a maximum of 48 hours, accrued at one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked. This will take effect on January 1, 2021, for employers with 16 or more employees, and on January 1, 2022, for all employers. SB 20-205.
Whistleblower Hotlines in Colorado
To file a complaint under the wages, Public Health Emergency Whistleblower and Healthy Families and Workplaces statutes, call the Colorado Department of Labor & Employment, Division of Labor at (303) 318-8441.
Whistleblower Retaliation Claims in Colorado
Unless stated otherwise by a statute, employees are required to file a lawsuit within 2 years of the retaliation.
Retaliation and Violation Penalties in Colorado
Unless stated otherwise by a statute, a court may order an employer to pay punitive damages, court costs, back pay, front pay, and any other relief that the court deems appropriate to an employee.
Employers who pay their employees a salary less than the minimum wage can be found guilty of a misdemeanor and upon conviction, they may be liable to pay a fine ranging from $100 to $500 or be imprisoned in the county jail for not less than 30 days and up to a maximum of 1 year, or be punished by both fine and imprisonment. They will also be ordered to pay the unpaid balance, court costs, and attorney fees to the employee. As for carrying out retaliatory action against an employee who exercises his or her rights under this statute, a fine ranging from $200 to $1000 may be imposed on the employer.
In addition to paying the employee’s compensation and other damages that the court deems appropriate, employers who violate this statute can be found guilty of a misdemeanor and upon conviction may be liable to pay a fine not more than $500 or serve a sentence of 60 days in the county jail, or be punished by both fine and imprisonment.
Public Health Emergency Whistleblower (PHEW) Law
Violators of this act may be ordered to pay the greater of $10,000 or lost pay (including front pay and back pay), compensatory damages, punitive damages, attorney fees, and they may also be ordered to reinstate the employee back to previous job position with or without back pay.
Click for an overview of the Federal Whistleblower Laws .
More Colorado Laws