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Brendan Hartigen works alongside his father, Sean Hartigen, filling water glasses for customers at The Last Steep Bar & Grill on Elk Avenue in Crested Butte, Colorado on August 6, 2019. Sean buses tables and does whatever other tasks are given to him. (Dean Krakel, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Gov. Jared Polis on Tuesday signed into law a bill that will give nearly every Colorado worker the ability to earn up to six paid sick leave days annually starting next year.


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It’s considered one of the most progressive sick leave policies in the country and comes in response to the coronavirus crisis. 

Senate Bill 205 also will require all employers to provide two weeks of paid sick leave to people infected with COVID-19 or who must care for a loved one who catches the disease. The time can also be used to care for a child or dependent family member whose normal place-of-care has been shuttered because of the pandemic.

“Sixty percent of Coloradans already have some kind of paid sick leave,” said state Sen. Jeff Bridges, a Greenwood Village Democrat and prime sponsor of the measure. “The other 40% are the ones we encounter most whenever we leave our homes. They tend to work in restaurants, retail and service industry jobs that put them in close contact with all of us. And those tend to be the kind of jobs where people can’t afford to take an unpaid day off.” 

The Colorado Sun analyzed the bill to break down how it will affect everyday Coloradans:

A maximum of six paid sick days 

Anyone who works at a business with 16 or more employees will be able to earn one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours they work. Workers can accrue up to 48 hours — or six days — of paid sick leave each year. 

People who work at a business with 15 or fewer employees won’t be eligible to accrue paid sick time under the bill until 2022. The delay was added into the legislation to appease small businesses that worried the new legislation was too great a burden. 

The law applies to both hourly and salaried employees. 

For salaried employees, employers are to assume they work 40 hours a week. If they are part-time, then employers must calculate how much sick time they earn based on the number of hours they typically work during a week. 

Employers who are more generous with their paid sick leave do not have to reduce their offerings because of this bill. The law expressly allows employers to offer more paid time off. 

Who won’t get paid sick time

The law doesn’t apply to gig workers and the self-employed, who are a growing segment of the economy. 

Seasonal workers do fall under the law and can accrue and store their paid sick leave as long as they don’t stop working for their employer for more than six months at a time. 

How the paid sick time can be used

Employees who want to use their paid sick time don’t have to do it by the day. They can take an hour here or there off as they wish. 

There’s a broad range of ways employees can use their paid sick time under the law. They include:

  • For mental health care
  • For a medical appointment, either preventative or diagnostic
  • After being sexually assaulted or if they are the victim of domestic abuse or harassment
  • To care for a loved one who has been sexually assaulted or is the victim of domestic abuse or harassment
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis delivers his second State of the State address in the House chambers at the state Capitol on Jan. 9, 2020. (Kathryn Scott, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Workers do not need to provide a reason for why they are taking the time off if they are gone for less than three days. After that, they must provide their employer with an explanation, though not necessarily one from a doctor. 

To protect peoples’ privacy, bill sponsors said, they were purposefully vague about how employees must handle notifying their employer about why they are taking time off.

However, employees are directed to “make a good-faith effort to provide notice of the need for paid sick leave” in advance of taking off. Workers are expected to “not unduly disrupt the operations of the employer.”

MORE: A Salvadoran immigrant worked at a Fort Morgan slaughterhouse for 24 years. Coronavirus killed him in 10 days.

Two weeks of coronavirus time off

The legislation broadens out federal coronavirus time-off protections by requiring that employers of any size provide two weeks of paid sick leave if one of their workers falls ill with the coronavirus or must quarantine. 

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act applies only to companies and businesses with 500 or fewer employees. Senate Bill 205 eliminates that cap. 

Future pandemics

Starting in 2021, Colorado will require employers to offer two weeks of paid sick leave to their workers during a declared public health emergency, such as the coronavirus crisis. 

Similar to the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, workers can use their time off to recover, self-isolate, seek treatment or a diagnosis, care for a family member and watch a child or dependent family member whose place of care has been shut down because of the pandemic. 

Protections for workers

The new law also sets out protections for employees who decide to use their accrued paid sick leave. 

Employers cannot retaliate against them for using or attempting to use their paid time off. They also can’t use a worker’s decision to take time off as a reason for discipline or termination.

State regulators can investigate an employer suspected of violating the law and force the employer to rehire the worker and provide them with lost wages.

Employers are also expected to ensure their workers know they are accruing paid time off and how and when they can use it. 

Jesse Paul is a Denver-based political reporter and editor at The Colorado Sun, covering the state legislature, Congress and local politics. He is the author of The Unaffiliated newsletter and also occasionally fills in on breaking news coverage....