The 2021 Colorado Legislative Session was interesting and full of drama.
The most significant employment bill, by far, was Senate Bill 21-176, the “Protecting Opportunities and Workers’ Rights (POWR) Act.” Originally, the bill would have substantially expanded discrimination and harassment laws and significantly narrowed employers’ defenses.
Significant provisions included:
After intense opposition from business groups and others, the bill was substantially amended. As amended, the bill was passed by the Senate. However, it encountered stiff opposition in the House. The amended bill went before the House Judiciary Committee. Although many of the problematic provisions had been removed, many continued to have serious concerns about the bill, including the following:
The bill failed to pass out of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and thus the bill “died.” Had it been enacted, this bill would have been a very significant change in the law of discrimination and harassment in Colorado.
House Bill 1232, the Standardized Health Benefit Plan Colorado Option, was passed. The law mandates certain reductions of premiums for individual and small group plans. If these reductions are not achieved, the Commissioner of Insurance may establish carrier reimbursement rates for healthcare providers. While not an “employment law,” per se, this law could affect employers and employees by decreasing the rates of individual and small group plans and possibly increasing the rates of large plans.
House Bill 21-1108, the Gender Identity Expression Anti-Discrimination Act, was passed. It amends the definition of “sexual orientation” and adds definitions of the terms “gender expression” and “gender identity” to the list of protected classifications, making it clear that Colorado law prohibits discrimination against members of those classes.
Senate Bill 21-039, Elimination of Subminimum Wage Employment, passed and is before the Governor. Current law allows employers who hold a special certificate from the Department of Labor that authorizes the employer to pay less than the minimum wage to employees whose are impaired by age, physical or mental disability, or injury from paying an employee below minimum wage. The bill phases out subminimum wage employment and requires employers to establish plans to phase out subminimum wage employment by July 1, 2025.
Though exciting, overall, the 2021 legislative session was not as momentous as the last session from an employment law perspective, which saw the enactment of important employment laws, including paid family and medical leave legislation. In particular, the defeat of SB21-176 avoided major changes in discrimination and harassment laws. However, there is every reason to believe that significant workplace legislation will be introduced in the 2022 legislative session.