DENVER — Starting in January, Colorado employees will see more money deducted from their paychecks than previous years. The money will fund the state’s new Paid Family and Medical Leave Insurance (FAMLI) program, which was approved by voters in 2020.
The program will offer payments from the state for workers who need to take time off to have a child, for those who are seriously ill, those who need to take care of a loved one who is ill and more.
“This covers a wide range of situations, including care of a family member, safe leave for people who have been impacted by intimate partner violence or sexual assault. It also grants leave before somebody is deployed with the military,” said Tracy Marshall, FAMLI division director.
This program is different than any sick leave or pandemic programs the state has operated over the past couple of years. It’s also different than the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) offered to employees.
“The main difference between FAMLI and FMLA is that this is a paid benefit, which FMLA is not. This also covers more workers, including those who are gig workers, who are self-employed. It covers our population working in agriculture, maybe small businesses,” Marshall explained.
Starting Jan. 1, employees will see a 0.45% deduction from their paychecks. For someone earning $50,000 annually, that equates to $4.33 per week or $225.16 per year. Through FAMLI, that same employee would have access to up to $750.88 each week for up to 12 weeks if they need to take time off.
The state created a calculator tool for employees who want to find out exactly how much the program will be deducting from their pay checks each week.
Along with employee contributions, businesses who employ 10 or more workers will also be required to pay into the program beginning in January, including businesses with their own paid family leave plans.
“Employers that have nine or fewer employees, they will not be responsible to make the employer or participation fee of the 0.45%. They will only have to contribute on behalf of their employees,” Marshall said.
Every employer will have to register with the program through the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE), however. So far, Marshall says 15,000 businesses have already successfully registered.
The CDLE anticipates collecting around $1.5 billion through employee/employer contributions over the next year to stand up the program. Then, starting January 1, 2024, workers will be able to access the benefits, though not retroactively.
Similar to the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund, an employee who needs to take time off would submit their claim to the state. The claim would be reviewed, and then payments would be sent out through the state.
Some small business owners are supportive of the program and excited for it to get underway.
“I think small businesses like mine really struggle to match the kind of benefits packages that larger corporations have to offer,” said Emilie Aries, founder and CEO of Bossed Up.
Aries’ business is a career services and leadership development company that helps women advocate for themselves in the workplace. The business is comprised of four full-time employees, who work out of a small office in a shared workspace.
Aries is also the mother of a 15-month-old boy. When she gave birth, Aries’ son struggled with major health challenges for the first few months of his life, while Aries struggled with postpartum depression.
“I took leave living off of my own savings at the time, which was really hard, but it's also a privileged position to be in,” she said.
Despite being a business that empowers women, up until this point as a small business owner, Aries has not been able to offer her workers time off to start a family or care for a loved one.
“The vast majority of small businesses like mine right here in Colorado can't afford paid family leave. So, I think this is going to be a real game changer in providing crucial benefits for all employees in this state,” Aries said. “No one should have to choose between putting food on the table or taking care of yourself when you're injured or ill.”
She hopes the new program will help her small business and also help the state better attract and retail talent, because she knows firsthand life happens and work shouldn’t always get in the way.
“I love my work, and I also love being a mother. And providing paid family leave is going to actually make that feel possible for millions of Americans,” Aries said.