Media Coverage: Colorado anti-discrimination bills protect workers’ rights, strengthen economy

By Linda Meric, national executive director of 9to5
Denver Business Journal
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Editor’s Note: 9to5 executive director Linda Meric makes the case for proposed laws pending before the Colorado Legislature that would provide additional legal remedies for people who believe they’ve been discriminated against by their employer in this guest online viewpoint.

“A lot of sexual references. Masturbation. A lot of sexual comments; biting of the lips; licking of the lips.”

Rachel, a 17-year-old, working at a franchise sandwich shop in Aurora, describing behavior (along with physical assault) she experienced on the job.

Many working women in Colorado face sexual harassment on the job, but they don’t have sufficient remedies available under state law to seek justice.

This is despite the fact that Colorado was one of the first states to establish a civil rights agency and take a stand against workplace discrimination. Today, we have fallen woefully behind as one of only eight states that hasn’t updated our laws to give victims of illegal discrimination the right to seek justice and be made whole for their damages.

Rachel’s story, and the stories that follow, are from actual cases shared with 9to5 by individuals and organizations.

There is a bill in the legislature now, HB 1136, that would solve this problem by modernizing our state law.

HB 1136 and several other bills under consideration in the 2013 legislature arise from genuine problems in the workplace, and are supported by broad coalitions of community, faith, business, labor and legal organizations.

HB 1227 would help Colorado employees who aren’t being paid the wages they’ve earned because unscrupulous employers are stealing their wages. Workers like Alexis, whose auto repair shop employer bounced paychecks and never made good on them, leaving Alexis unpaid for his work and homeless as a result. This is obviously bad for workers and their families, but it’s also harmful for our communities, our economy and the majority of employers who are playing by the rules.

Some unemployed Colorado workers are being denied hiring opportunities because of credit checks that have absolutely nothing to do with their job qualifications, but everything to do with the fact that we’ve had a bad economy and lots of layoffs.

Debbie, a worker in her 50s who was laid off and went back to school for training, applied for a position in her new field, to be told that her credit history would be checked even though it was unrelated to the job duties of the position she applied for. SB 18 would establish clear guidelines for employers about the use of applicants’ credit histories.

And a fourth bill, HB 1222, would allow Colorado workers who are already eligible for coverage under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act to use the job-protected leave they’ve earned to care for a limited number of additional family members. Workers like Latrisse, who was forced to quit her job to provide care for a family member with cancer.

These situations are a nightmare for the affected workers and their families. That’s why these bills have so much support from such a diverse group of stakeholders.

These legislative proposals are about creating and saving Colorado jobs – whether it’s an unemployed worker getting a job to pay that overdue mortgage payment, an employee spending the wages she’s earned at a local small business, a worker taking a small amount of unpaid time off to care for a seriously ill family member without losing his job, or an employee being harassed or discriminated against who can get the problem stopped and stay employed.

Other states have made similar changes in their laws without negative impacts on employers. With HB 1136, for example, 42 other states have already modernized their laws, and they haven’t seen increased legal caseloads, costs to employers or job loss. In fact, federal law adopted these changes in 1991, followed by a 20.7 percent job growth between 1993 and 2001.

While people can reasonably disagree about these bills on policy grounds, they’re not about increasing lawsuits. Even businesses agree on that point — fear of lawsuits is 71st out of 75 concerns expressed by small businesses in an NFIB poll.

These bills will preserve, not cost, Colorado jobs, and should be supported by all of us.

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