Checking In: Workplace Equity Legislation in Colorado

The Colorado legislature is just passing the three-quarters mark of the 2019 legislative session and it is time to take stock of the legislature’s progress. The Bell Policy Center will be looking at a number of policy areas and explaining why these issues are important, and the specific bills moving to increase economic mobility for Coloradans.

Workplace Equity

As outlined in our Guide to Economic Mobility, many of the employee benefits and protections that have been a vital piece of the workplace — paid time off, retirement plans, overtime pay, policies against discrimination — were created following the Great Depression. As the workplace has evolved and changed over the last century, these benefits and protections have not kept pace. Wages that provide a living wage, equal protections based upon gender, and benefits that allow the development of families are all important parts of economic mobility.

One of the tasks of the legislature this session was to help working Colorado families keep pace with rising costs, fairness in the workplace, and helping families do what is necessary to keep Colorado’s economy thriving. Let’s look at a few pieces of legislation in that vein.

Helping Low-Wage Workers

HB19-1210: Local Government Minimum Wage

Problem addressed: Colorado voters approved a gradual minimum wage increase in 2016, ensuring that the statewide minimum wage is $12 per hour in 2020. However, there is still a statewide prohibition on cities and counties adopting a higher minimum wage than the statewide number. For many parts of Colorado, a $12 an hour wage is not a livable wage and has not kept up with rising costs. Currently, local communities do not have the ability to set a minimum wage that meets their local/regional needs.

How this helps: This bill gives cities throughout Colorado the option to raise their minimum wage. It does not require them to do so. Costs have out-paced wages in many areas. A higher local minimum wage would help about 525,000 Colorado workers, with over half of them in the Denver metro area. Also, given that a majority of low-wage jobs are done by women, this would also be a good way to help families, who increasingly have women as primary breadwinners.

Equal Pay is Long Overdue

SB19-085: Equal Pay for Equal Work Act

Problem addressed: Women make 84 cents for every dollar a man makes. For women of color, that number is substantially lower. With women becoming more important to the economic success of families — the median Colorado family made 40 percent of its total income in 2016 from the female parent, compared to 35 percent in 2000 — it’s imperative women are paid what they are worth to advance families’ economic opportunity. Also, over two-thirds of young children in Colorado live in households where all adults are in the workforce. To continue helping families achieve economic mobility, women need to be paid commensurate with their male counterparts.

How this helps: This bill has a few different components to help women earn the same as their male counterparts:

  • It prohibits employers from asking job candidates about previous pay, ensuring past wages do not inhibit women from earning the appropriate amount.
  • The legislation gives women a clear route to rectify lesser pay through the courts, as a last resort.
  • It ensures women are given opportunities for promotions when jobs become available, through transparency in the workplace. It requires notifying all workers of possible promotions.
  • Prohibits disciplining employees for discussing pay and benefits while at work.

While these remedies will not make pay gaps disappear on their own, they will help drive a culture shift, where women are compensated the same as men.

All Coloradans Should Have Access to Necessary Benefits

SB19-188: Family and Medical Leave Insurance Program

Problem addressed: Colorado, like many other states, does not provide protections and insurance for paid leave for the birth of a child, medical issues, or to care for a loved one. That leaves workers at the mercy of their employer to provide paid leave. For workers who do not have an employer that offers paid family and medical leave benefits, they will have to choose whether to get paid or be with their newborn or loved one. That causes extreme stress and office turmoil, while reducing productivity and increasing turnover.

How this helps: The bill provides protections for workers who take paid leave and insurance for paid leave for almost all employees across Colorado through wage replacement. Almost all employees and their employers will pay a small premium for every paycheck into an insurance fund. Employees can access progressive wage replacement — low wage workers will get a higher percentage of their wages than high wage workers — when needing to take leave. Workers can take 12 weeks of paid leave after the birth of a child or when needing to care for a family member in need. The benefits of paid leave are numerous and will allow families to have peace of mind that they don’t have to choose between a paycheck and a loved one.