Whistleblower Protections Bill Signed into Law
The law is limited to public health emergencies, protects workers who report health and safety violations

by Jessica Folker

Governor Jared Polis on June 11 signed whistleblower protections into law to prohibit retaliation against workers who speak out about unsafe work conditions during a public health emergency.

The law prohibits a “principal” from taking adverse action or retaliating against a worker for raising any “reasonable concern” in good faith about workplace violations of government health or safety rules, or about an “otherwise significant workplace threat to health or safety” related to a public health emergency declared by the governor or state or local public health agencies.

The definition of “principal” extends to private employers, government agencies and entities that contract with five or more independent contractors in the state, and the protections cover employees and contractors.

Aggrieved workers who have exhausted administrative measures through the Division of Labor Standards and Statistics will be able to sue a principal in state court to recover damages and attorney fees.

The bill’s sponsors say the protections are needed for a safe reopening of businesses in the state. “People need to feel safe going to their employers about workplace safety concerns,” said co-sponsor Sen. Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood, in a news release.

“Unfortunately, during the COVID outbreak, too many workers experienced retaliation when they spoke up. This new law will ensure that all Coloradans can return to work safely without being forced to choose between risking their life or losing their job.” – Attribution? I believe its person above?

Ogborn Mihm partner Clayton Wire, a plaintiff-side employment attorney who specializes in representing whistleblowers, said the law “really does fill a gap,” particularly for health industry workers

“I listened to the committee hearings on this bill, and the testimony was overwhelmingly by nurses and other health workers who were being put in extremely dangerous situations by employers who are not providing adequate PPE and were violating public health orders,” said Wire, who worked on the language of the bill with proponents of the legislation.

“And when they reported their concerns internally, they were either ignored or, in a lot of cases, retaliated against and either demoted or pushed out entirely,” he said, adding he also expects the law to help workers in retail, hospitality and other industries that require indoor interaction with a lot of people.

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This article appears in the July 20 issue of Law Week Colorado. To read the rest of the article, and others from the issue, purchase a copy online.