UPDATED 4/29/22: All employers in Colorado (no matter their size) must provide up to 80 hours of public health emergency (PHE) leave if there is a federal, state, or local declaration of emergency. On 4/16/22, the federal COVID-19 public health emergency was again extended 90-days until 7/15/22 (whereby it can be extended again). Therefore, Colorado employers are still required to provide PHE leave to eligible employees.

UPDATED – On October 15, 2021, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra extended the nationwide COVID-19 public health emergency, effective October 18, 2021 and will remain in effect until January 16, 2022 unless otherwise renewed. Colorado’s HFWA requires employers to supplement paid sick leave in certain circumstances in the event that a “public health emergency” is declared “until four weeks after the official termination or suspension of the public health emergency. This means that if the COVID-19 public health emergency declaration remains in effect until “the official termination or suspension of public health emergency” on January 16, 2022, the HFWA requirement for supplemental paid sick leave would not expire until February 13, 2022.

UPDATED – On February 23, 2021, the Department revised rules relating to employers’ paid sick leave in order to clarify obligations under the Healthy Families and Workplaces Act. These revisions take effect April 24, 2021. This article has been updated in light of these additional clarifications.

On December 23, 2020, the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment’s Division of Labor Standards and Statistics (Department) issued an Interpretive Notice & Formal Opinion (“guidance”) and emergency revisions to wage protection rules related to the Healthy Families and Workplaces Act (“HWFA”). The guidance and rules, among other things, clarify how the HWFA’s paid sick leave for the public health emergency (“PHEL”) will apply come January 1, 2021, in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. For more information about the HWFA and its other requirements please see our prior blog post. This article covers the significant interpretations and clarifications to PHEL under the HWFA from the recent guidance.

Bottom Line

Beginning January 1, 2021

  • All employers, not just employers with 16 or more employees, must provide PHEL to their Colorado employees;
  • Employers must ensure their policies and practices comply with this new Department guidance.

On July 14, 2020, Colorado Governor Jared Polis signed into law the HWFA, requiring all private employers with at least one employee who works in Colorado to provide earned paid sick and safe time leave. Employers with 16 or more employees must begin providing earned paid sick and safe time leave on  January 1, 2021. All employers, regardless of size, must begin providing earned paid sick and safe time leave effective  January 1, 2022.

HWFA also establishes a separate and additional type of leave, Public Health Emergency Leave, that is triggered during a public health emergency as follows:

  • For employees who normally work 40 hours or more per week: at least 80 hours
  • For employees who normally work fewer than 40 hours in a week: the greater of either the amount of time the employee is scheduled to work in a 14-day period or the amount of time the employee actually works during an average 14-day period.

In a public health emergency (as defined by the HFWA), employees can use PHEL for the following needs:

  1. self-isolating or work exclusion due to exposure, symptoms, or diagnosis of the communicable illness in the public health emergency;
  2. seeking a diagnosis, treatment, or care (including preventive care) of such an illness;
  3. being unable to work due to a health condition that may increase susceptibility to or risk of such an illness; or
  4. caring for a child or other family in category (1)-(3), or whose school or childcare is unavailable due to the public health emergency.

Important Clarifications to PHEL Beginning January 1, 2021 due to COVID-19

  1. The ongoing COVID-19 public health emergency requires employers to provide supplemental PHEL as of January 1, 2021. The Department has clarified that the Governor’s declaration and subsequent extensions of the public health emergency, requires employers to provide employees up to 80 hours of supplemental PHEL leave as of January 1, 2021.
  2. Employers with fewer than 16 employees are required to comply with the supplemental PHEL during a public health emergency beginning January 2021. The Department has clarified that all employers, including those with less than 16 employees, must provide PHEL in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. However, these same employers are not required to provide 48 hours of earned paid sick and safe time pursuant to the HFWA until 2022. As a reminder, the HFWA also mandates that employers with 16 or fewer employees provide at least one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked, up to 48 hours total beginning January 1, 2022. For more information about the timeline of this general paid sick and safe time requirement under the HFWA please visit our blog post.
  3. Employers cannot credit COVID-19 related paid sick leave provided during 2020 against the additional PHEL leave obligation beginning January 1, 2021. The Department clarified that the PHEL obligation in 2021 is a new supplemental leave of up to 80 hours, regardless if an employee used 80 hours in 2020 for COVID-19 related reasons (such as pursuant to Colorado’s temporary paid sick leave expansion for employers not covered by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act).
  4. Beginning January 1, 2021, employers need only provide PHEL once during the current public health emergency. The Department has clarified that once an employee exhausts their supplemental PHEL the HFWA does not require the employer provide any additional leave for the same public health emergency.
  5. Updated – The Department clarified that part-time employees receive PHEL in the greater of the number of hours the employee (a) is scheduled for work or paid leave in the 14-day period after the leave request, or (b) actually worked in the 14-day period prior to the declaration of the public health emergency or the leave request, whichever is later.
  6. Updated – The Department clarified that employees who are hired during a public health emergency are entitled to PHEL.
  7. Updated – The Department clarified that PHEL eligibility is linked to when the employee requests leave.

Final Thoughts

While the Department’s interpretive guidance may face legal challenges due to its expansive nature, it is best practice to comply with the guidance until it is circumvented by judicial or legislative action. State and local responses to the pandemic are ongoing and dynamic from day to day and employers are encouraged to consult with legal counsel when determining if and how to comply with guidelines as they are released.

Additional Resources

Disclaimer: This content is intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal, medical or tax advice. It provides general information and is not intended to encompass all compliance and legal obligations that may be applicable. This information and any questions as to your specific circumstances should be reviewed with your respective legal counsel and/or tax advisor as we do not provide legal or tax advice. Please note that this information may be subject to change based on legislative changes. © 2021 Sequoia Benefits & Insurance Services, LLC. All Rights Reserved

Lizet Ramirez – Lizet is a Client Compliance Manager for Sequoia One, where she works with our clients to optimize and streamline benefits compliance. In her free time, Lizet enjoys live music, travel, hiking and spa days.