State employees to benefit in 2021 from new paid family and medical leave program

By: - December 21, 2020 1:58 pm

The Colorado Capitol in Denver is pictured on June 11, 2020. (Andy Bosselman for Newsline)

Colorado voters last month approved a wide-ranging paid family and medical leave program for workers. The program had been proposed in various forms among Colorado lawmakers and worker advocates for years, and success of the proposition was seen as a triumph for Colorado wage earners.

Benefits from the new program, however, aren’t due to be available until 2024.

But state employees will enjoy paid family and medical leave benefits in less than two weeks, on Jan. 1. Gov. Jared Polis announced on Monday that state employees will be eligible for such a program, which will allow them to care for a loved one or a new child, or cover them in the case of serious illness.

“I am proud to say that Paid Leave will now be a reality for State Employees, many of whom have worked day and night during this past year to ensure that we can save the lives of Coloradans and come out stronger from this public health crisis,” Polis said in a news release.

The release included comments from Hilary Glasgow, executive director of Colorado WINS, a union representing more than 31,000 state employees. The release did not specify the nature of WINS’ role in the new paid leave program. But Glasgow said, “When we work together to protect all workers and provide access to paid leave, state employees can better protect their communities, their families and themselves … This is a good step in the right direction and we look forward to negotiating our first contract with the state with an equally collaborative spirit.”

In an interview with Newsline Monday, Glasgow paid family leave for state employees has long been a goal of the Polis administration, and WINS and state officials had been working “for several weeks” on terms for the program announced Monday. The program will offer two weeks of paid leave for employees who have worked for the state at least 12 months, Glasgow said. The state currently employs 39,901 people, she said.

She expects the union in the new year to negotiate an expansion of the program.

State employees are certainly in need of paid family leave, not least because they “really are on the front lines of the whole COVID response,” Glasgow said, noting that COVID-related work, or risk, is undertaken by staff at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the Department of Labor and Employment, the Department of Corrections and elsewhere throughout state government.

Glasgow was not aware of any express opposition to the program as of Monday evening. “You’d have to be pretty coldhearted to oppose it,” she said.

Several Democratic state lawmakers expressed approval for the new program.

Rep. Julie McCluskie
Rep. Julie McCluskie, D-Dillon. (Colorado General Assembly)

“This fall, I was heartened and excited to see voters approve a robust paid family leave program that will allow all Coloradans the time they need to care for loved ones and themselves,” Rep. Julie McCluskie, D-Dillon, who is vice chair of the Joint Budget Committee, said in a release from state House Democrats. “The Governor’s announcement today means that hardworking state employees will be able to access these crucial benefits even sooner … State employees always have our backs, and I’m proud to say that we have theirs too.”

State employees have not previously had access to paid family and medical leave. Funding for the new program will come from the Group Benefits Plan Reserve Fund, a state fund for health, life and dental benefits. There’s enough money in the fund to pay for the new family and medical leave program in 2021, the release from Polis’ office said. Beyond next year, the state could ask the General Assembly to fund the new program.

Beyond Proposition 118, a new state law that goes into effect in 2021 requires Colorado employers with 16 or more employees to provide one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked, up to 48 hours of paid sick leave per year. The law applies to all employers starting in 2022.

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 8:46 p.m. Dec. 21, 2020, to include comments to Newsline from Hilary Glasgow.

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