On May 31, Colorado governor Jared Polis (D) signed SB22-097 into law; the new law expands protections for health and safety whistleblowers.
Colorado’s previous whistleblower protections offered protections to “workers who raise a reasonable concern about health or safety related to a public health emergency,” according to the Colorado General Assembly’s website. The new law strikes the words “related to a public health emergency,” thus protecting health and safety whistleblowers regardless of whether a public health emergency is occurring.
The bill text states that workers who raise concerns — “in good faith” — about “workplace violations of government health or safety rules” or “an otherwise significant workplace threat to health or safety” should not be discriminated or retaliated against. Employers are also forbidden from “requir[ing] or attempt[ing] to require a worker to sign a contract or other agreement that would limit or prevent the worker from disclosing information about workplace health and safety practices or hazards…or to otherwise abide by a workplace policy that would limit or prevent such disclosures.”
The bill will also appropriate a total of $646,128 in the 2022-2023 state fiscal year, to be used across multiple departments. According to the Revised Fiscal Note, under the previous law, a whistleblower could file complaints about safety issues “related to a public health emergency” to the Division of Labor Standards and Statistics, which is part of Colorado’s Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE). “If a complaint is investigated and the division rules in favor of the complainant, it may order a range of remedies, including the reinstatement of an employee, payment of lost wages, fines or penalties, or orders to cease the prohibited behavior. After an employee or employer has exhausted any internal appeals with the CDLE, the final decision may be appealed to the district court,” the Revised Fiscal Note states.
The note explains that the funding in the previous version of the whistleblower protection law for “the existing CDLE investigations program…is scheduled to expire at the end of the current fiscal year.” Thus, the updated bill will include appropriations for more funding, the totals “reflect[ing] the whole costs of continuing the program, after accounting for the expanded scope of this bill.”
The law grants CDLE $491,544 for fiscal year 2022-2023 and $499,568 for the next fiscal year. The money is to be used for staffing, legal services, and software, among other things. According to the note, CDLE receives “about 150 complaints per year,” and since the newly passed law will expand the whistleblower protections, that number is “expected to increase,” thus needing more staff and resources.
The law also appropriates money to the Department of Personnel and Administration: $228,499 for fiscal year 2022-2023 and $228,499 for the next. This money will be used for legal services and settlement payments. The note explains: “In recent years, the state has received about 30 employment-related claims per year. It is estimated that, under this bill, three additional cases would involve a whistleblower allegation concerning health or safety.”
The bill was sponsored by Representatives Leslie Herod (D) and Tom Sullivan (D) and Senators Brittany Pettersen (D) and Robert Rodriguez (D).