The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment offices at 251 E. 12th Ave. in Denver. (Quentin Young/Colorado Newsline)
Whistleblower protections enacted in Colorado during the pandemic emergency for workers would be made permanent under proposed legislation announced by Democratic lawmakers Wednesday.
The legislation offers protection against employer retaliation for workers who speak out about workplace health and safety concerns.
“No worker should have to worry about losing their jobs or having their hours cut because they speak out about working conditions, and they have a right to a safe working place,” Democratic state Sen. Robert Rodriguez said during a virtual press conference.
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Rodriguez, who lives in Denver, was one of the sponsors of House Bill 20-1415, also known as the PHEW Act, passed during the early months of COVID-19 when the spread of the coronavirus highlighted workplace hazards.
The law bars public and private employers from taking adverse action against any worker who “in good faith” raises concerns about workplace safety related to a public health emergency. It allows a whistleblower to file a complaint with the state’s Division of Labor Standards and Statistics or sue in district court. The law specifies that workers can wear their own personal protective equipment.
Speakers during the press conference noted that the law’s provisions were written specifically to respond to a public health emergency.
“But we’re here today because workers need those protections all the time,” said Nina DiSalvo, policy director for Denver-based worker advocacy group Towards Justice. “Meanwhile, who knows when the next pandemic will arise, heaven forbid, but we hope workers will feel safe, and feel free to raise health and safety concerns regardless of whether that new illness has been formally declared a public health emergency.”
State Rep. Leslie Herod, a Denver Democrat who was also a sponsor of PHEW, said during the press conference that since the law went into effect the Division of Labor Standards and Statistics had received 126 complaints. In 33 cases, the division issued a notice of a right to sue. Seven of the complaints resulted in settlements. The four settlements in which the settlement amount was disclosed resulted in a total of more than $215,000 obtained.
Lawmakers in 2020 supported PHEW after hearing from health, education, grocery and other workers who had concerns, Herod said.
“The pandemic exposed many health and safety concerns in the workplace, but those concerns existed long before COVID and will continue to exist after the emergency declaration ends,” Herod said.
Sen. Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood, and Rep. Tom Sullivan, D-Centennial, also spoke in support of extending permanent worker whistleblower protections. The new legislation is expected to be introduced “soon,” supporters said.
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