Paid Family & Medical Leave In Action

Update 4/9/19: Since this post was initially published, SB19-188 has been amended. Several key changes include: an opt out for local governments; premium discounts for certain employers; program exemptions for employers that demonstrate they provide a paid family and medical leave benefit equal to that offered by the state; a change in what percentage of the premium employers vs. employees contribute from 50 percent for both to 40 percent for employers and 60 percent for employees; requiring all employees to provide verification of their need for leave; limiting all leave to a maximum of 12 weeks; and a provision requiring CDLE to examine whether a third party should administer the program. Finally, implementation dates have also changed. As amended, premium collections will begin in 2023, and individuals will be eligible for benefits the following year.

A proposal to create a new paid family and medical leave program is making its way through the Colorado legislature. SB19-188, also known as the FAMLI Act, passed out of the Senate Business, Labor, and Technology committee yesterday afternoon. It’s now headed to Senate Finance.

If signed by Governor Polis, paid family and medical leave will be an important asset to the tens of thousands of Coloradans who need time off to care for their own needs or those of a loved one. With progressive wage replacement and job protection for participants, the program will provide an additional level of financial security for those who need it most. But more than just benefiting Colorado families, paid family and medical leave will bring broad economic benefits to our state. As noted in the University of Denver’s recently released research, employees with paid family and medical leave have greater workforce attachment, lower turnover and absenteeism rates, improved health, and are less reliant on public assistance programs.

How Will Benefits Be Collected & Distributed?

Though we know paid family and medical leave has immense benefits, it’ll still be a new program, and there are many questions about what it’ll look like in practice. Fortunately, as described in the bill, implementation should be relatively straightforward. But more than this, we have an idea about what paid family and medical leave will look like in Colorado because of the work done in the half-dozen other states that have already passed similar legislation.

Related: The Shared Responsibility of Paid Leave

As laid out in the bill, Colorado’s paid family and medical leave program will be administered by the state Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE). The program will be funded by small premiums, split evenly between employers and employees. The total weekly premium for a person making $50,000 per year is expected to be about $6 per week —the employee will contribute $3, as will his/her employer. Premiums will be collected through a payroll deduction, and go directly into a separate, self-sustaining fund that covers claims and administrative costs.

To ensure the program’s sustainability, the state will need to collect premiums for several months before Coloradans can access benefits. However, at the beginning of 2022, Colorado employees who work at least 680 hours a year — which is about 13 hours per week — will be able to tap into the program and receive a percentage of their wages for up to 12 weeks—more in the cases of pregnancy. When you want to access your benefits, you’ll simply need to fill out an application and tell your employer you’re planning to take leave. If foreseeable, employees will need to provide employers with at least 30 days notice. Depending on your situation, you may need to send in paperwork to the state, verifying you or your loved one has a serious health condition. With your paperwork in order, you’ll start receiving benefits within two weeks after you file with CDLE.

Even though the process is clear, the bill allows CDLE to “develop, implement, and administer outreach services” to educate the community about the program. As CDLE engages in this work, it can learn from efforts in states like Washington, which is currently implementing its own paid family and medical leave program. Like Colorado’s proposing, Washington has already created a separate division dedicated to administering paid family and medical leave benefits. An interactive and informational website has been integral to Washington’s efforts.

Related: Colorado Paid Leave: Learning from Massachusetts & Washington

Paid family and medical leave will be a real change for Colorado, offering a new level of financial security for our families and communities. The program, though, shouldn’t be complicated. If done properly, benefits will be easily accessible, with staff and infrastructure solely dedicated to managing the program. With these features in place, for the first time, all Coloradans will have access to needed time off to care for their own needs or those of a loved one.

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