More POWR to you: Key provisions of new law explained

Jenny Kelly

The Colorado Legislature recently enacted the Protecting Opportunities and Workers’ Rights (POWR) Act aimed at safeguarding workers from discriminatory employment practices.

The law goes into effect in August and includes several key provisions intended to bolster anti-discrimination laws and protect the rights of employees. Here’s an overview of the POWR Act:

Inclusion of harassment as a basis of discrimination: The POWR Act directs the Colorado Civil Rights Division to include harassment as a basis or description of discrimination on any charge form or charge intake mechanism. This step protects workers who face harassment in the workplace based on various factors.

Revised definition of harassment: The act introduces a new definition of harass or harassment after repealing the previous definition that required the creation of a hostile work environment. This update broadens the scope of what constitutes harassment and ensures a more comprehensive approach to addressing those behaviors in the workplace.

Protection based on marital status: The POWR Act extends protections against discriminatory or unfair employment practices to individuals based on their marital status. This addition aims to prevent employers from making employment decisions based on an employee’s marital status, offering more inclusive rights to workers.

Lower threshold for harassment claims: The POWR  Act specifies the alleged conduct need not be severe or pervasive to be considered a discriminatory or unfair employment practice. This change provides workers with greater recourse when facing harassment regardless of the frequency or intensity of the incidents.

Elimination of disability impact exception: The act eliminates the ability for employers to assert an exception to discriminatory practices based on an individual’s disability affecting the job. This change ensures employers can’t use an employee’s disability as a rationale for discriminatory employment practices.

Obligation to investigate complaints: Under the act, it’s considered a discriminatory or unfair employment practice for an employer to fail to initiate an investigation of a complaint or neglect taking prompt, reasonable and remedial action. The requirement encourages employers to address complaints promptly and effectively.

Affirmative defense for harassment claims by supervisors: The act outlines specific requirements for an employer to assert an affirmative defense to an employee’s proven claim of unlawful harassment by a supervisor. This provision ensures employers can’t avoid accountability for harassment by asserting a defense without meeting stringent criteria.

Regulation of nondisclosure provisions: The POWR Act sets forth specific conditions that must be satisfied for a nondisclosure provision in an agreement between an employer and employee or prospective employee to be enforceable. This regulation promotes transparency and fairness in such provisions.

Record-keeping requirements: Employers must maintain personnel and employment records for at least five years. In cases of complaints of discriminatory or unfair employment practices, employers must store these records in a designated repository. This measure ensures crucial records are preserved for future reference or investigations.

The POWR Act represents a significant step forward in protecting Colorado workers from discriminatory practices in the workplace. By introducing comprehensive provisions to address harassment, discrimination based on marital status and employer accountability, the state aims to create a more equitable work environment. With the enactment of this law, Colorado solidifies its commitment to upholding workers’ rights and promoting fair treatment in the workplace.