New workers' rights laws take effect in Colorado Monday

Laws aim to protect Coloradans from discrimination and harassment in the workplace
colorado capitol
Posted at 7:13 AM, Aug 07, 2023
and last updated 2023-08-07 09:46:16-04

Three workers’ rights laws will also go into effect on Monday, aimed at protecting employees from discrimination in the workplace.

The POWR Act (Protecting Opportunities and Workers’ Rights Act) (Senate Bill 23-172) updates the definition of “harassment” in Colorado and lowers the standard for harassment claims.

It no longer needs to be considered “severe or pervasive.”

“We know that under the previous law of severe or pervasive, you were less likely to be believed, you weren't likely to win in court,” said state Sen. Faith Winter, D-District 25, who sponsored the legislation. “This will create a safe work environment where everyone can show up to work and expect to be safe.”

Sen. Winter said she has personally experienced harassment in the workplace.

“In 2017, during the MeToo Movement, I came out about my own sexual harassment in the statehouse,” Sen. Winter said.

Winter accused fellow lawmaker, state Rep. Steve Lebsock, R-District 34, of sexual harassment. Rep. Lebsock denied inappropriate behavior, but an independent investigation found the allegations made against him by five women were credible.

He was expelled from the Colorado House of Representatives, the first Colorado lawmaker to be expelled from office in over 100 years.

“I think people saw folks like me come forward and be believed,” Sen. Winter said. “But I have a title and a badge that says that said ‘state representative’ at the time. That doesn't leave a lot of room for hotel maids and waitresses and other people.”

Opponents worry the law will harm businesses.

“A single comment could get an entire company pulled into court for years,” said state Sen. Kevin Van Winkle, R-District 30.

Sen. Winter said companies that provide proper training and a safe culture have nothing to worry about.

“If you did the training, you did the investigation, you had a response, this isn’t going to take you to court for years,” Sen. Winter said.

The POWR Act also adds marital status as a protected class.

More than 100 new laws take effect in Colorado Monday

Two other workers’ rights laws will also take effect Monday.

Senate Bill 23-111 provides protections to public employees when it comes to discussing workplace issues. State and federal laws already provide these protections to private-sector employees.

Another law, the Job Application Fairness Act (Senate Bill 23-058), will ban employers from asking about a prospective employee's age, date of birth, or date of graduation on initial job applications.

Supporters of the law say this type of information often leads companies to discriminate against older applicants.

“Age discrimination is a real problem. Studies from AARP show that the problem was significant before the pandemic and has only grown since,” said state Rep. Mary Young, D-District 50, one of the legislation’s primary sponsors.

While the bill takes effect Monday, employers will have until July 1, 2024, to update their applications and remove any age-related inquiries.

The Colorado Civil Rights Division, which investigates workplace harassment, said over the last three years, less than five percent of claims had enough evidence to make a case for discrimination.

The division says over 1,100 complaints were filed during FY23.

About half of the complaints alleged discrimination based on sex and disability.

Race discrimination made up 11% of the complaints, followed by age discrimination with 10%.

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