The Need For Paid Family Leave in Colorado

Colorado’s family leave program currently only provides unpaid leave for certain workers who need to take time off from work to bond with a new child or to care for a seriously ill family member. However, many workers cannot afford to take extended unpaid leave, and some small employers are unable provide paid leave benefits to their employees for an extended period of time.

A paid family leave insurance program would allow Colorado workers to contribute to a state-administered insurance program that would help provide up to 12 weeks of paid leave to working adults who need time off to care for a seriously ill family member or to bond with a new child. This would allow small businesses that previously could not afford to offer paid leave to provide an extra benefit to their employees.

This document is intended to answer any questions small employers might have about establishing a paid family leave insurance program in Colorado, and the effects this would have on small business owners and their workers. 

What are the current family medical leave policies in Colorado?

Under the federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), Colorado employees are eligible for up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave to care for a newborn, a newly adopted child or seriously ill family member, or to recover from their own serious health conditions. Below are some state-specific family leave policies in Colorado.

  • Adoptive Parents Leave Act: This is applicable to both public and private employers with one or more employees. It requires employers who permit maternity or paternity leave for biological parents following the birth of a child to make that benefit available to adoptive parents as well.
    • Biological and adoptive parents shall be granted the same period of leave.
    • Other benefits, such as job guarantee or pay, also must be available to adoptive parents and birth parents on an equal basis.
  • Parental Involvement in K-12 Education Act: Employers with at least 50 employees must provide unpaid leave for non-supervisory workers to attend parent-teacher conferences and other activities for the educational progress of their children. Leave is limited to six hours a month and 18 hours per academic school year, and may be taken in three (or less) hour increments.
  • Domestic Violence Leave: Employers with at least 50 employees must allow eligible employees who have been victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, domestic abuse, or stalking to take up to three days off in a 12-month period to:
    • Seek medical treatment or counseling for the employee or the employee’s child;
    • Seek a civil protection order;
    • Seek legal assistance or attend court-related proceedings; or
    • Seek new housing or make an existing home secure.
  • Family Care Act: In 2013, Colorado passed legislation to expand FMLA to permit eligible employees to care for their civil union partner or domestic partner who has a serious health condition.

Is Colorado looking to offer a paid family leave insurance program, like Rhode Island recently started administering?

  • Yes. Legislation proposed this year and in prior legislative sessions has sought to create a Family and Medical Leave Insurance (FAMLI) program. This would establish a statewide insurance program for employees to receive partial wage replacement in order to take leave to care for a newborn or adopted child or to take care of a seriously ill family member. While the bill ultimately failed, state lawmakers have indicated they will reconsider this again in the future. 

How would the proposed FAMLI program work?

  • Employees would contribute a small premium (about $3/week) to the Colorado Family and Medical Leave Program. The estimated cost to employees will depend on the employee’s salary. Family and medical leave insurance would replace between 66% and 95% of the worker’s wages, depending on how much the worker earns, and would be capped at $1,000 per week.
  • Employees who have worked at least 680 hours at their job in the previous year would be eligible to use FAMLI for up to 12 weeks per year, and leave could be taken intermittently. 

Would the employer have to pay the employee’s salary while they’re on leave?

  • No, employers would not be responsible for paying the employee’s salary while on leave, so businesses would see a savings during that time. 

Are self-employed small business owners eligible for the program?

  • Yes, the self-employed may opt into the FAMLI program and would become eligible to receive benefits after three years. 

What effects does paid family medical leave insurance have on small businesses?

  • Based on the experience of businesses in California, New Jersey and Rhode Island, states that have paid family medical leave programs in place, such a program is unlikely to have a significant effect on businesses in Colorado. The program would be entirely funded by employees; employers do not have to pay employees’ salaries while they are on leave. Many small businesses that previously could not afford to offer paid leave to their employees would be able to offer the benefit through such a program. This helps small businesses compete for the best employees, and gives employers peace of mind that they are doing what’s best for their workers. Employers that already offer paid family leave can expect to see cost-savings.
  • recent poll conducted for Small Business Majority found 7 in 10 small business owners and operators support the FAMILY Act, legislation that would establish a national insurance program enabling workers to take up to 12 weeks of paid time away from work in order to care for a loved one or bond with a new child. Additionally, most small business owners (61%) support state-administered paid leave programs.
  • What’s more, a majority of small businesses have some type of policy—formal or informal—in place when it comes to family medical leave—time an employee would take to care for a family member with a serious illness or caregiving need. More than 7 in 10 (72%) small business owners have either a formal written policy, a consistent but not written policy or informal policy provided on a case-by-case basis to provide family medical leave. Of the small business owners who do offer family medical leave, 61% offer full or partial pay and 22% offer pay depending on the employee.

What effects does paid family medical leave insurance have on employees?

  • Employees who need to take leave to care for a loved one or welcome a new child would be able to do so without having to worry about whether they will be able to pay their bills or keep their jobs. 

Do other states have similar programs?

  • Yes. California New Jersey and Rhode Island have paid family and medical leave insurance programs, and New York will begin a paid family leave program in 2018. California’s Paid Family Leave program has been in effect for more than 10 years. New Jersey’s Family Leave Insurance program has been in effect for seven years, and Rhode Island’s Temporary Caregiver Insurance program has been in effect for three years. All programs have been implemented successfully. Evidence suggests that neither California, nor New Jersey nor Rhode Island’s program has imposed a burden on businesses, and all have had significant benefits for employees. Moreover, many employers find that the program is actually good for their businesses, boosting employee loyalty and lowering turnover.

Where can I get additional information about Colorado family leave policies?

Additional questions?

  • Contact Lindsey Vigoda, Colorado Director for Small Business Majority, at [email protected]