Colorado Passes New Law that Entitles Workers to Six Days of Sick Leave

The fight to give workers more days off for paid sick leave is not a new fight, but the recent pandemic has made advocates for this benefit much louder. Now, Colorado has put a somewhat comprehensive one into law.

“We want sick people to stay home—to be able to stay home,” said Governor Jared Polis of Colorado.

On Tuesday, July 14, 2020, Polis signed the SB-205 bill into law—a move that will allow sick workers to stay home for about six days without losing wages, says a Denver Post article.

The call to give workers more sick time off is not new. Many times, when a worker or his or her family member is sick, he or she cannot afford to stay home to care for someone or care for themself—and he or she ends up going to work sick.

One physician and sponsor of the bill, state Rep. Yadira Caraveo, said “So often when a kid comes to the clinic and is sick with a cold or the flu or, yes, even coronavirus, we say go home, drink plenty of fluids, take some Tylenol, and don’t go anywhere. … And for so many parents I’ve talked to in the 10 years I’ve been a doctor, that’s not a choice.”

Many Colorado representatives have been working for six years to create a statewide paid family and medical leave program, arguing for universal benefits of 12 or more weeks of paid time for someone tending to a personal emergency, or helping a family member through one. The bill signed Tuesday is largely less ambitious.

However, supporters of a comprehensive, larger program are collecting signatures to place their proposal, Initiative 283, on the ballot in November. It would allow up to 16 weeks of paid leave for some employees if it makes the ballot and is approved.

Its sponsors say SB-205 is a start.

The law will go into effect on January 1, 2021. It will require every Colorado employer to offer up to 48 hours of paid sick leave to their workers—that’s six, eight-hour days off—who will accrue this benefit at a rate of one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours on the job. The article explains, “Someone who works 40 hours per week will earn the full 48 hours after 36 weeks. Workers will be able to begin taking paid leave as it’s accrued, meaning someone who works eight-hour days will have to put in six 40-hour weeks before being allowed to take one paid sick day.”

The benefit will be available for full- and part-time workers, though it will take part-time workers longer to accrue hours.

Workers can use this benefit to care for their own mental or physical health or that of a family member. It provides paid sick leave for people who have been personally victimized by sexual assault, harassment or domestic abuse, or a who have a family member in such circumstances.

Another factor to the law is in direct response to the pandemic, as it allows a worker with a child to take paid sick leave if a public health emergency has necessitated the closure of schools or childcare centers.

Many Colorado workers—especially low-income, hourly workers—do not currently have access to these benefits. This has forced many to make tough decisions during the pandemic as many are losing their jobs or being asked to return to work—even though they could be sick and are highly exposed to the virus at work.

“We know that if we had universal access to paid sick leave for all workers before this virus, we know more people would’ve stayed home,” said Senate Majority Leader and SB-205 sponsor Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder. “We know that people wouldn’t have had to choose between going to work sick or staying home.”

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