Colorado business face employment law changes

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Michael Santo

Colorado businesses face substantial changes in the way they must determine and pay wages, according to a partner of a Grand Junction employment law firm.

The Colorado Equal Pay Act, overtime and minimum pay standards and other laws and rules constitute “groundbreaking” changes in employment law, said Michael Santo.

Santo — a partner at Bechtel, Santo & Severn — offered a legislative and administrative update on employment law at a briefing hosted by the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce.

The Colorado Equal Pay Act takes effect at the beginning of 2021 and requires employers to pay employees the same wages for substantially similar work regardless of gender.

Similar work is based on combination of skill and effort regardless of job titles, Santo said.

Any differences in wages must be based on six factors, he said. Those factors include seniority; merit; a system that measures earnings by quality or quantity of production; education, training or experience related to the work; geographic location; and travel if that’s required. The exact terms and requirements are not defined, however.

It’s important, Santo said, for businesses to establish systems to take into account those factors as well as develop accurate job descriptions. Businesses also should conduct a wage audit of their work forces. “Start this process now.”

The law also prohibits employers from relying on previous wages in determining pay for a new hire, so that should not come up on applications or in interviews, he said.

Employers also must post every open position prior to hiring for that position and disclose a wage range that will be offered.

The law removes a requirement that employees alleging wage discrimination based on gender to first go through an administrative process, allowing them to go directly to litigation.

The Colorado Overtime and Minimum Pay Standards (COMPS) order covers wages paid for various types of employees under various circumstances, including an overtime wage rate for time beyond 12 hours a day and 40 hours a week.

The rules also cover wages paid employees for travel on the job. “If they travel for you, they’re getting paid,” Santo said.

The rules also require a meal period of at least 30 minutes when a shift exceeds 5 hours as well as rest periods of at least 10 minutes for each 4 hours of work.

Businesses should incorporate the provisions of the COMPS order into their employee handbooks and make sure employees know they’re authorized and permitted to take breaks for meals and rest periods, he said.