Updated November 26, 2020:

Colorado Employment Law

Colorado employment law consists of state and federal rules of employment and protects employees during recruitment, employment, and after termination.

Pre-Employment Rights

Employers may not consider or mention discriminatory factors such as sex, age, or race in job advertisements, interviews, or final hiring decisions, during employment, or in reference to the former worker after termination. Organizations are prohibited from illegal interview questions that review topics such as marital status, children, or place of birth.

Colorado Wage Laws

Colorado state wage laws provide better protection for most workers than the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act. Businesses must adhere to state laws covering annual cost-of-living adjustments to the minimum wage and define overtime as working more than 12 hours in one day or 40 hours per week. Colorado’s current minimum wage rate is $9.30.

Safe Work Environment

Federal and state laws require work environments to be free from known safety hazards. Whistleblowers are protected under the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) Title VII Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) law. Organizations may not retaliate against whistleblowers or internal claims of discrimination by firing or demotion.

Workers' Compensation for On-The-Job Injuries

Workers' compensation is a mandatory insurance that all companies with even one employee (with rare exceptions) must have. Workers' compensation pays medical bills and other injury-related expenses, as well as disability, if an employee is hurt at work.

Your Right to Time Off

Employees have the right to time off without jeopardizing their job. This includes Workers’ Compensation cases and Family Leave.

Workplace Harassment

Workers are entitled to be free from unwanted and persistent physical or verbal behavior directed at discriminatory factors (i.e., sex, age, or disability). When such behavior creates a hostile work environment, harassment persists.

Leaving Your Job

As an at-will employment law state, workers are entitled to cancel an employment agreement at any time, for any reason, and with full pay and accumulated time off or other paid leave.

Post-Employment Benefits

Employees in Colorado are eligible for certain benefits after leaving a job:

  • Unemployment benefits of state mediated cash payments;
  • COBRA continuation of health insurance coverage.


State labor laws mandate businesses to pay workers overtime at a rate of 1.5 times their regular rate when they work more than 40 hours in a workweek, more than 12 hours in a workday, or 12 consecutive hours without regard to the workday. The state demands organizations to pay workers overtime, unless an exemption applies.

Federal law requires employers to pay for hours worked, including certain times that an employer may designate as “breaks.” Breaks lasting from five to 20 minutes are considered part of the workday, for which workers must be paid. Businesses do not have to pay for bona fide meal breaks.

Meals and Rest Breaks

Colorado is one of the handful of states that instruct organizations to provide and pay for rest breaks. State labor laws compel companies doing business in the food and beverage, retail and service, health and medical industries, or commercial support services to provide their workers with a meal period of at least 30 minutes when they work more than five consecutive hours. The worker must be relieved of all duties during the entire thirty-minute meal period. This “duty-free” meal period may be unpaid.

Three New Employment Laws

In 2016, the Colorado General Assembly passed three laws that impact businesses in the state. The laws are Employment Verification, Pregnancy Accommodations, and Personnel-File Inspection.

Colorado Employment-Verification Law Repealed

Colorado State repealed most of its state Employment-Verification Law, effective Aug. 10, 2016. Colorado employers no longer need to complete the Colorado Affirmation Form for new employees. One term that remains of the Employment-Verification Law, is Division of Labor may ask for documentation and audits to confirm a businesses’ compliance with the federal Form I-9 employment-verification requirements. Organizations who participate in E-Verify are required to retain certain documents as outlined in the E-Verify Memorandum of Understanding for Employers.

Pregnancy Accommodations

Amendment to the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act requires Colorado organizations to provide practical accommodations for workers who can’t perform the crucial functions of their job due to health-related conditions associated with pregnancy or childbirth. The new law prohibits businesses from:

  • taking negative action against workers who request such an accommodation;
  • denying opportunities based on the need to make accommodations;
  • imposing a needless accommodation or one that the worker did not request;
  • or demanding the worker to take leave if another practical accommodation is available.

Employees May Inspect Personnel Files

As of January 2017, Colorado law provides that current and former employees of most private Colorado businesses have limited rights to obtain and inspect a copy of their personnel files. This recent employment law reform does not apply to state employees or financial institutions. Businesses must allow workers to copy and inspect their own personnel files at least once a year. Organizations may require that the inspection of a personnel record take place in the presence of an employer representative, and businesses can require the worker to pay the reasonable costs of copying the file. The act does not create a private right to sue.

Workers who are fired without cause or treated unfairly may have legal rights that are being breached. In Colorado, some of the legal rights of workers are:

  • The entitlement not to be discriminated against because of age, race, gender, religion, disability, national origin, or pregnancy;
  • The entitlement not to be sexually harassed;
  • The entitlement not to be retaliated against for disagreeing with illegal doings by your organization;
  • The entitlement not to be fired or discriminated against because of taking FMLA leave;
  • The entitlement, unless exempt, to be paid correct overtime.

Age discrimination is covered by a federal statute under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), and by state law. The courts allow for plaintiffs in ADEA cases to sue for compensatory damages valued at double the amount of back pay if the worker can show that an employer’s discrimination was “willful.” Workers can also pursue disability discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADEA and ADA have similar requirements to EEOC or CCRD interpretation of protections in U.S. employment law.

What About “At-Will” Employment?

Employees of most U.S. companies and organizations are employed at-will. The employer and the employee are free to cancel the employment agreement without cause, at any time. There are exceptions to at-will employment, giving workers significant rights. Exceptions include:

  • Workers who are discriminated against because of age, race, gender, disability, pregnancy, religion, or national origin;
  • Workers who are sexually harassed;
  • Workers who are retaliated against for opposing illegal doings of their organization;
  • Workers who are fired or discriminated against because they take FMLA leave;
  • Workers who are not being paid correct wages and overtime.

What Makes a Good Case?

Employees with a “good” case for settlement, may also be a “good” case for litigation. When an employer is interested in settling, it is usually a signal that they acknowledge that it will be affirmed in an employee’s favor. The reasons that a business may settle an employee grievance with upfront compensation:

  • The organization’s aversion for conflict or litigation;
  • The organization’s need to sustain a positive relationship;
  • The organization’s need to hide something;
  • The organization’s need to amiably remove you as a worker;
  • The organization’s sense of obligation to you.

Factors creating the conditions for a “good” case:

  • “Smoking guns” – witnessed or documented discriminatory action;
  • Nonsensical termination where a worker has outstanding performance evaluations over a long period and is fired without justification;
  • A large successful company;
  • Cases involving multiple workers who have received the same illegal treatment by the organization and who wish to pursue their case together;
  • Discrimination cases where statistics or statements are illustrating unfair treatment of minorities;
  • Cases where workers have witnesses of illegal treatment by an organization;
  • Cases where Title VIII protected classes of workers will permit substantial recovery in court.

Can I Settle My Claim?

Workers interested in settling legal claims with an employer to avoid filing a lawsuit must exhibit they have a legal claim and sensible severance expectations. Employers are motivated to settle as well. Title VII rules applying to all employers of organizations with 15 or more employees, provides for the recovery of unlimited economic damages of up to $300,000 for intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED) or punitive damages and the offset of attorneys’ fees. Workers pursuant of a lawsuit against an employer in Colorado must first file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC or CCRD within 300 days from the date of their discrimination.

Do I Have a Claim for Wrongful Termination?

Employees who have been “wrongfully discharged” or “wrongfully terminated” can file a legal claim for unjust termination. Colorado courts consider wrongful termination lawsuits, where a worker is fired for oppositional conduct that is illegal or against public policy. Colorado recognizes Title VII protected opponents as part of EEO law.

What Can I Do If I Am Harassed at Work?

Sexual harassment and race harassment are both forbidden under EEOC rules in Title VII. Employees wishing to pursue Title VII sex and/or race harassment claims are required to file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC or CCRD within 300 days.

What Are My Family and Medical Leave Act Rights?

Under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), employees who have been employed for more than one year by employers with at least 50 employees, may have the entitlement to take up to 90 days unpaid leave to help take care of a child, parent, or spouse with a chronic or serious medical condition, for a chronic or serious medical condition, or the birth of a child. Workers who take FMLA leave have the right to return to their former position and may not be discriminated against by the organization.

Can I Enforce a Verbal Promise?

Workers typically think they do not have the right to legally enforce a verbal promise. In Colorado, explicit promises by employers that are dependent on workers may be legally enforceable if there is no disclaimer by the organization.

Do’s for Termination

  • Request reference letters from your managers.
  • Ask your company for a written explanation for your termination.
  • Seek assistance from an employment lawyer if your termination gives rise to a legal claim.
  • Return all company property including all company documents.
  • Review your non-compete agreement, if any, and check with an employment attorney about its enforceability.
  • If you have not received all the back wages and commissions due you, make a formal written demand to the company, with address where wages and commission may be forwarded.
  • If fired through no fault of your own, or left because of a significant change in working conditions on the job, find out about unemployment compensation eligibility.
  • If discriminated against on basis of age, sex, religion, race, national origin, or disability, file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC or the CCRD within 300 days of your first notice of termination. 
  • Obtain the names and contact information of other company employees if considering legal action. Workers may be witnesses to discrimination or have similar legal claims.
  • Be careful with respect to any verbal or written statements about company employees, as those statements can serve as evidence later.

Don'ts for Termination

  • Make threats or express your frustration.
  • Sign a release of claims unless you are sure that you don’t want to pursue legal action.
  • Assume that you won’t be able to negotiate better terms for your severance arrangement.
  • Say or do anything that provides your organization with “cause” for your termination. Even though you may have already been given notice of your termination, continue to abide by all company rules.
  • Take company documents.
  • Send written complaint or grievance letters to company officers, human resources, or managers without first consulting an employment lawyer for advice.
  • Write complimentary letters to your boss or the company if you are thinking about taking legal action.

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