In the News

Family, medical leave expansion next big battle at Colorado statehouse

Source: Denver Business Journal

Now that the fights over civil unions, the most controversial gun bills and in-state college tuition for undocumented immigrants at the Legislature have ended, Capitol observers might be wondering what issue will spur the next big battle.

Mark your calendars for Friday, when the House is expected to take up debate on a bill to expand the benefits of the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) in Colorado.

House Bill 1222, sponsored by Rep.Cherilyn Peniston, D-Westminster, already has made it through the House Health, Insurance and Environment Committee on a party-line vote. And business leaders have discussed fears that it could lead to an increase in lawsuits against employers who don’t allow increased leave.

But most business owners who have weighed in on the bill are worried more so about the effect that HB 1222 will have on their workforce. The Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry (The Colorado Chamber), in fact, has gathered a coalition of 40 corporations and industry groups to oppose it, ranging from the Colorado Retail Council to the Douglas County Business Alliance to Centura Health and HealthOne.

Currently, federal law requires that all companies with 50 or more workers offer employees as much as 12 weeks of unpaid leave to deal with their illnesses or to care for parents, spouses, or children under 18. HB 1222 would expand the list of people that workers could take time off for to include grandparents, in-laws, aunts, uncles, cousins, domestic partners, and adult children.

Jerry Reed, vice president of human resources for Fort Lupton-based manufacturer Golden Aluminum Inc., said the current law is exceedingly difficult to administer, especially because employees can take off not only large blocks of time but also take that 12 weeks intermittently, leaving a workforce shortage at the last minute. Doctors can tell employers, for example, that migraine headaches require the employee to stay home once every week or two, and the employer can be left short-staffed if the employee says they feel the need to take off, he said. Some people do find relief from these symptoms, such as via a private label cbd water, but in the end of the day the law still stands as it is.

The doctor would be right in doing so because he would know that wrong diagnosis or any kind of medical negligence from his side would be something he can be sued for. Employees know this too and in case such a wrongdoing happens to them, then they might contact personal injury lawyers in Nashville or their likes and would discuss ways to get compensation. All, these are nothing but in favor of the employee welfare as of now, but the peril that the employer would be at after the implementation of the law doesn’t seem to be addressed.

The way the bill is worded now, employees who request up to 12 weeks off to care for someone only covered by the state FMLA can also make employers give them off another 12 weeks if they have to take additional time off to care for a family member covered by the federal law, said Miz Cordero, director of the Colorado Competitive Council. And because 20 percent of state workers eligible for FMLA leave already take advantage of the law at some point, that number is expected to go up with the expansions in HB 1222, he said.

“Now we’ve got to track whether your first cousin has that medical condition,” said Loren Furman, The Colorado Chamber senior vice president of state and federal relations. “Backers say they haven’t seen it be a problem in other states, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be a problem here.”

Linda Meric, the Denver-based executive director of 9to5, National Association of Working Women, said the details of the law – specifically that workers have to take unpaid leave – should discourage any fraud or excess time off. Studies have shown that only 16 percent of nationwide workers covered by FMLA use the law, and 81 percent of those use it to care for their own illness or to take time off after pregnancy, she said.

“It allows people to have job-protected leave to take care of a real emergency in their family,” Peniston said. “Families look differently now than they did 20 years ago when the Family Medical and Leave Act was put into place.”

Ed Sealover covers government, health care, tourism, airlines and hospitality for the Denver Business Journal and writes for the “Capitol Business” blog. Phone: 303-803-9229.