Colorado Voters Create Statewide Paid Family Leave

By Leni Plimpton

On Tuesday, November 3, 2020, Colorado voters approved a measure that creates paid family leave for all Colorado workers, starting in 2024. Although the law may take effect too late to help families and parents during the pandemic, it will provide much-needed support in the future. Surprisingly, the United States of America is one of only a few countries in the world that does not mandate paid parental leave. By instituting paid family leave, Colorado vaults ahead of the curve, joining eight other states and the District of Columbia in guaranteeing these benefits for workers.

California, New Jersey, Rhode Island, New York, Washington State, and Washington D.C. currently all provide some form of paid family leave. Connecticut’s paid leave law will go into effect next year, with workers eligible to take the leave on January 1, 2022. In Massachusetts, paid family leave provisions have taken effect in terms of funding the program, with benefits available for workers starting January 1, 2021, and a similar law in Oregon will take effect in 2023. Additionally, it is worth noting that all federal workers receive paid family leave under the Federal Employee Paid Leave Act, which took effect on October 1, 2020.

Colorado’s new law is known as the “Paid Family and Medical Leave Insurance Act.” It provides up to twelve weeks of paid family and medical leave, but also up to an additional four weeks to any person with a serious health condition related to pregnancy complications or childbirth complications. Colorado’s law therefore is among the most generous, if not the most generous, in the nation. Colorado’s law is also the only one that was passed as a ballot initiative.

As with the Federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), Colorado’s law allows for leave to be taken intermittently and prohibits retaliation. The amount of benefits is calculated in a somewhat complicated manner, but generally replaces 90% of the wages of low earners, and it has a maximum weekly benefit of $1,100 acting as a cap on higher earners.

The law provides leave, as would be expected, to parents, as well as to those with serious health conditions and those caring for someone with a serious health condition. Interestingly, the law also provides expansive leave “arising out of” a person’s family member’s “active duty service or notice of an impending call or order to active duty.” This would include leave to attend military events, spend time with a military member, and provide for the “care or other needs” of a military member’s child or family member. Additionally, the law provides for the broad use of paid leave for anyone who is the victim of domestic violence, stalking, sexual assault or sexual abuse, or whose family member is the victim of these crimes.

Of note, the law creates a new division within the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE) called the “Division of Family and Medical Leave Insurance.” This division will administer the program through a payroll tax system that is shared equally by employers and workers.

This law represents a major change for Coloradans and Colorado employers. Luckily there is a lot of time to prepare for it. Contact the Fortis employment law team with any questions about this or other leave laws.

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