The Ever-Confusing Sick Leave Laws

At this point most employers in Colorado have reached a “new normal” when it comes to COVID-19 rules but are still at a loss when it comes to navigating sick leave. This is because Colorado legislature decided to pass its own emergency sick leave law after Congress had already done so. Now the two laws, despite being nearly identical, clash and therefore wreak havoc on employers trying to navigate these added nuances. The reason for this is because Colorado’s Healthy Families and Workplaces Act (HFWA) functions on a calendar year while the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) functions on whether Congress chooses to extend it. Below is a timeline of the sick leave changes.

As you may see above, there have been two resets on the 80-hour maximum of sick leave, meaning if an employee already used their sick leave hours, they are entitled to a new block of up to 80 hours. In what is meant to provide some relief, the federal law made the sick leave optional for employers as of January 1, 2021. In contradiction, however, the Colorado law is not optional. It also does not provide reimbursements to employers for paying out the sick leave – a vital component for small businesses already struggling in the pandemic. If a business wanted to be reimbursed for the sick leave, they could opt-into the federal law, however, the Colorado law pushed the reset button on the 80 hours maximum of emergency paid sick leave while the federal law did not. This meant if an employer already sought maximum reimbursement for hours paid to an employee in 2020, they could not get additional reimbursement for the same employee needing to be out for COVID-related reasons again.

To make matters even more confusing, the federal law did choose to reset the 80 hours maximum starting on April 1, 2021. Again, the federal law is still optional but for Coloradans this leaves many employers having to choose how to move forward. If they opt-into the Federal law, it’s wise to apply the rule to all employees to avoid discrimination. This also means that there is a potential of an employee taking a total of 240 hours off for COVID, some of which is reimbursable, and some of which is not. Overall, this has added to the administrative burden of employers, but the good news is that the end is in sight. With vaccines becoming more readily available we can hope the end of these contradictions between our legislation is near.