Colorado Democrats are pushing ahead with legislation brought in response to the coronavirus crisis that aims to protect employees from discrimination and retaliation by their bosses if they raise health concerns.
“Of course this is not common, but we want to make sure that these employees are protected during this time,” said state Sen. Brittany Pettersen, a Lakewood Democrat, who is leading the push for the measure.
House Bill 1415 would also protect worker’s rights during a public health emergency. This includes voluntarily wearing personal protective equipment at work such as masks, face shields or gloves, and raising concerns about health and safety practices and hazards in the workplace.
The legislation cleared the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday by a 4-3, party-line vote.
Under the bill, a person who faces discrimination or retaliation for raising concerns or trying to protect themselves can file a complaint with the Colorado Division of Labor Standards and Statistics, or can take legal action — including filing a whistleblower lawsuit — if they’re unsuccessful at resolving the situation.
The bill would also make it so that if an employee was fired, quit or experienced a wage cut due to an employer’s violation of government health and safety rules, the state can order that they be reinstated or rehired, or the employer may have to cover their back pay.
Pettersen said the policy is intended to “ensure that people are able to go into work and have a conversation if they feel like their workplace is not safe and following the public health guidelines.” She said she spoke with nurses in her district who feared they would be fired if they had conversations with their employers about workplace safety and personal protective equipment shortages.
Employers are defined in the bill as certain labor contractors, public employers and entities that rely on independent contractors.
While the legislation has the overwhelming support of Democrats in the legislature, Republicans and business groups have raised concerns.
Sen. Paul Lundeen, a Monument Republican, said he likes the concept but that the bill invites lawsuits.
“People should be free to express their perspective and be free to protect their own private health,” he said. “I don’t think this bill gets us there.”
Tony Gagliardi, Colorado state director for the National Federation of Independent Businesses, said he also has concerns about the potential for lawsuits.
“I think it’s unnecessary and overreaching,” he said. “It’s not the substance of the bill that is concerning to us, it’s the legal pitfalls.”
Gagliardi said NFIB and its members are glad the bill “has been tamed some” through amendments, but their concerns remain.
“Unless we go back into another pandemic in the near future, the bill really doesn’t come into play,” Gagliardi said.
House Bill 1415 now heads to the Senate Appropriations committee.