Governor Jared Polis took a significant step towards safeguarding workers' rights and leveling the playing field with the signing of the Protecting Opportunities and Workers' Rights (POWR) Act in June 2023. This landmark legislation, which amends the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act (CADA), brings about crucial changes that empower employees and enhance workplace fairness.
Under the POWR Act, nondisclosure agreements entered into or renewed on or after August 7, 2023, will face strict limitations. The aim is to promote transparency and accountability, ensuring that employees feel comfortable speaking up about any wrongdoing without fear of repercussions.
In addition to redefining unlawful harassment, the Act raises the bar for proving workplace harassment claims, placing the burden on employers to provide a robust defense against allegations made by their employees. Moreover, the legislation sets forth comprehensive recordkeeping requirements for employers operating in Colorado. This move not only promotes organizational transparency but also establishes a strong foundation for addressing any discrimination or unfair employment practices that may occur.
Marital status has been added to the list of protected characteristics, expanding the scope of employment discrimination protections. This forward-thinking measure ensures that individuals are not discriminated against based on their marital status, further emphasizing the importance of equal opportunities for all.
Acknowledging the need for employees to come forward and report discrimination or unfair employment practices, the POWR Act extends the time limit to file a charge with the commission. This change, from six months to 300 days, provides individuals with a more reasonable timeframe to take action against their employers and seek justice.
Moreover, the Act repeals the limits on remedies in cases involving age discrimination, reinforcing the commitment to combating age-based prejudice in the workplace.
Noncompliance with the new requirements surrounding nondisclosure agreements carries significant consequences for employers. They will be held liable for actual damages, with penalties amounting to $5,000 per violation. Furthermore, employees or prospective employees who encounter agreements that fail to comply with the new standards can take legal action against their employers, seeking penalties, actual damages, reasonable costs, attorneys' fees, and even punitive damages.
Employers are now obligated to preserve employment records for a minimum of five years, ensuring crucial information is readily available. These records include application forms, employee complaints, requests for accommodations, and other pertinent information related to hiring, promotions, terminations, compensation, training, and apprenticeship.
The POWR Act came into effect on August 7, 2023, affirming the commitment to protecting workers' rights in Colorado. It sends a clear message that any attempts to interfere with employees' ability to communicate and report alleged discriminatory or unfair employment practices are against the public policy of the state.
With these groundbreaking changes, the POWR Act paves the way for a more inclusive work environment, fostering equal opportunities and empowering employees to speak up against any form of discrimination or unfair treatment.
The Colorado POWR act provides additional broad protections to employees while adding burdens on employers. Employers should review the POWR Act in detail to ensure compliance with the regulatory changes, including reviewing and revising necessary policies, record retention practices, reasonable accommodation processes, and nondisclosure agreements. Once revisions or updates have been made, it is important to train human resources personnel and management on the new policies and practices.