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Colorado: Respiratory Illnesses are Covered Under the Healthy Families and Workplace Act

At the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, a number of jurisdictions enacted sick leave laws specifically designed for absences due to COVID-19, but some states enacted permanent changes to their leave laws that apply during a “public health emergency,” which can apply both to COVID-19 as well as other public health emergencies. Due to high reports of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and flu transmission, Colorado’s public health emergency provisions have been been triggered.

The most recent amendment to the governor’s emergency declaration issued on November 11, 2022 expands this public health emergency to cover not only COVID-19, but also RSV, influenza, and “other respiratory illnesses” in Colorado. This entitlement will remain in effect until four weeks after the current public health emergency declaration expires.

Under Colorado’s Healthy Families and Workplaces Act (“the HFWA”), employers are required to provide employees access to up to 80 hours of paid sick leave when a public health emergency (PHE) has been declared. Employees can access this PHE leave if they are:

  • Self-isolating or excluded from the workplace due to exposure, symptoms, or diagnosis of the communicable illness in the PHE;
  • Seeking a diagnosis, treatment, or care (including preventive care, such as vaccination) of such an illness;
  • Unable to work due to a health condition that may increase susceptibility to or risk of such an illness; or
  • Caring for a child or other family member who is in category (1)-(3), or whose school or childcare is unavailable due to the PHE.

Next Steps for Employers

All Colorado employees now have a right to paid sick leave of up to 80 hours for essentially any respiratory illness, and employers must provide up to 80 hours of paid leave for absences relating to all of these illnesses. Notably, the state labor department confirmed in a statement on its website that this amendment does not create a fresh bucket of 80 hours of PHE, it just means that employees “can use their 80 hours for a broader range of conditions.”

As a reminder, qualifying absences under PHE are job-protected, and employers cannot require documentation from employees to show that leave is being taken for a covered reason. As such, employers should review their current policy and ensure any language related to documentation for leave is consistent with what is permitted under PHE.

HR Works will continue to monitor this topic and provide updated information as needed.

HR Works, headquartered in Upstate New York, is a human resource management outsourcing and consulting firm serving clients throughout the United States for over thirty years. HR Works provides scalable strategic human resource management and consulting services, including: affirmative action programs; benefits administration outsourcing; HRIS self-service technology; full-time, part-time and interim on-site HR managers; HR audits; legally reviewed employee handbooks and supervisor manuals; talent management and recruiting services; and training of managers and HR professionals.