Colorado COVID-19 Employment Law FAQs

During these troubling times, employees have a lot of questions about their rights if they have to continue to go to work and their rights if they cannot work.  The attorneys at King & Greisen, LLP will continue to do our best to help you and have tried to answer some frequently asked questions.  The information provided is not legal advice.   The law is unclear about employee protections in these changing times.  If you have questions, please call our office at 303-298-9878 to talk with a professional.

Q: My work is denying me personal protective equipment (“PPE”). What rights do I have?

A:  Governor Polis’s Executive Order D 2020 039 and the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment’s Public Health Order 20-26 require all employees who interact closely with other employees or the public to wear a face mask that covers the employee’s nose and mouth. In addition, Public Health Order 20-28 requires all employers to provide their employees with protective gear like gloves, masks, and face coverings, as well as comply with other safety measures, including maintaining social distance between employees, avoiding gatherings of more than ten people, regularly cleaning and disinfecting common spaces, and implementing symptom monitoring protocols. If you are an employee who is vulnerable, such as you are 65 years or older, pregnant, or have underlying health conditions, you may have the right to refuse to go to work for a limited period of time.  There are laws that protect employees from hazards at work, including the Occupational Safety and Health Act (“OSHA”), which requires employers to provide PPE, such as gloves, eye and face protection, and respiratory protection, when the job’s hazards warrant it.  If you are not receiving the needed PPE, you should contact King & Greisen, LLP.  You may also file a complaint with the Occupational Health and Safety Administration but understand that OSHA’s response time may be severely delayed.


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Q: I’m an essential worker but I have underlying health issues and/or I’m scared to go to work. Do I have to go to work? Will I lose my job if I don’t?

A:  It depends on a lot of factors, including the type of work you do, the seriousness of your health issues, and the number of employees.

Under Governor Polis’s Executive Order D 2020 044, vulnerable individuals cannot be required to perform in-person work for any business or government entity no matter how critical the business or government function. Vulnerable individuals include individuals 65 or older; individuals with chronic lung disease, moderate to severe asthma, or serious heart conditions; and individuals who are immunocompromised or have been determined to be “high risk” by a healthcare provider. In addition, if you have childcare responsibilities or live with a vulnerable person, your employer must accommodate you through remote work options and/or a flexible schedule, if at all possible, as discussed below.

If you are not a vulnerable individual, caring for a child or a vulnerable person, or quarantined because you are sick, your protections are less clear.  The employer may be able to terminate your employment if you refuse to return to work in certain circumstances.  In that event, you may be eligible for extended unemployment benefits.  Please contact our office for questions about your particular case.


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Q: I am an essential worker and a single mom with no one to watch my young children who have no school. Will I be fired if I don’t go to work because I have no childcare?

A:  Governor Polis’s Executive Order D 2020 044 requires employers to accommodate workers with childcare responsibilities to the greatest extent possible by permitting remote work options or flexible schedules.

In addition, the FFCVRA extends the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to provide for up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave to care for a minor dependent whose school or childcare facility has closed due to COVID-19.

These protections include:

PAID EMERGENCY SICK LEAVE:

All employees can get two weeks (up to 80 hours) of paid sick leave at the employee’s regular rate of pay if you are quarantined or two weeks of pay at two-thirds your regular rate of pay if you cannot work because you are a caregiver for a child or a quarantined individual.

EXTENDED PAID LEAVE:

Employees who have been on the job for at least 30 days can get up to an additional 10 weeks of paid expanded family and medical leave at two-thirds your rate of pay if you have been employed for at least 30 days and cannot work because you need leave to take care of a child.

This law only applies to certain public employees and those private employers with fewer than 500 employees.  Small businesses with less than 50 employees may be exempt.

Visit the Department of Labor for additional details about rate of pay and requirements.


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Q: I’m an essential worker but I have childcare expenses my work isn’t paying for, what are my rights?

A:  For at least the immediate future, essential workers in Colorado should not have to pay for childcare expenses.  All essential workers identified in the Updated Public Health Order 20-24, issued by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment on March 27, 2020, should receive a 100% tuition credit that will provide childcare to all essential workers until at least May 17. Visit Colorado Emergency Child Care Collaborative to learn how to take advantage of this credit.


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Q: My boss wants me to sign a document that says if I go back to work, I have to agree that I won’t hold the company responsible for any health conditions I develop. Do I have to sign this?

A:  We understand that people are having to make difficult choices between risking their jobs versus risking their health.  BUT, it seems unfair that employers should be putting the entire burden on employees by forcing them to sign agreements to roll the dice on making these decisions.  The employers want you to come to work so they should have to bear some of the risks of making that happen.

BE VERY CAREFUL about signing a release before returning to work!  You should get legal advice before signing away your rights.  We understand that a paycheck is important – but is it worth risking your health?  The documents that employers may ask you to sign often have complicated legal language and you may be signing away important legal rights.  If you would like an attorney to review the release before signing it, you should contact King & Greisen LLP.


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Q: My boss just told me she had the virus and knew it but kept working because she needed her job. I got COVID-19 and got really sick, as did my husband (who is an independent contractor) and my young son. What are my rights?

A:  There does not appear to be a legal obligation or duty to inform others that you have tested positive for COVID-19 or been around others who have tested positive for the virus.  To the extent, however, that COVID-19 can be likened to other infectious diseases, there may be an action in tort (a private claim against your boss for damages) for assault and battery if you and/or your family caught the virus from her.  However, proving you got sick because of your boss will be especially difficult without the science that can reliably trace the origin of your infection.

If your partner has lost a job because of his/her illness, that person may also be eligible under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance extension provided by The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (“CARES”) Act, for unemployment benefits.

Visit the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment to determine eligibility and file a claim.


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Q: I work for a large corporation. Do the protections under the Family First Corona Virus Response Act apply to me?

A:  Unfortunately, the protections afforded under the Family First Corona Virus Response Act do not apply to private employers with over 500 employees.  This is different from other protections, which generally apply to large employers.  The 500-employee limit was a result of a compromise made in passing the legislation.


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Q: What if I can’t go to work for reasons related to COVID-19?

A:  Qualifying employees are entitled to take 2 weeks of sick leave for quarantine if the employee contracts the virus or must care for a family member who is quarantined because of COVID-19.  There are also protections in place for parents whose children’s school or daycare has closed, as discussed above.


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Q: I was laid-off because of COVID-19. Will my employer have to give me my old job back?

A:  If an employee takes an approved extended leave under the expanded FMLA provision of the FFCVRA, their employer is required to make efforts to restore them to their previous position, or a comparable position (smaller employers may seek an exemption to this requirement based upon the nature of the position and financial circumstances).  However, this provision does not apply to layoffs that were made due to economic considerations related to COVID-19.


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Q: If I lose my job because of something COVID-19 related, do I qualify for unemployment benefits?

A:  Yes.  You may also be eligible for unemployment if you have reduced hours or wages or have been furloughed and will be returning to your job after the pandemic.  And, if you are self-employed or an independent contractor, you too are likely eligible for assistance as discussed below.

Visit the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment to determine your eligibility for unemployment, to get instructions on how to file an unemployment claim, and to file a claim.


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Q: I am an independent contractor. Can I get unemployment?

A: Under the CARES Act, independent contractors may be eligible to collect unemployment benefits. Visit the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment for additional information about qualifications and filing a claim.


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King & Greisen, LLP

1670 York Street
Denver, CO 80206
Tel: 303.298.9878
Fax:303.298.9879