Newly available wage theft data shows nearly 130 Colorado employers with violation (CO)

Adrian D. Garcia
August 24, 2017

The state of Colorado is starting to name companies that steal wages from their employees, ending decades of businesses being able to shield their identities under claims of trade secret protections.

Nearly 130 employers have been ordered to pay employees $547,780.90 in back pay and penalties since April 13. The companies were also ordered to pay the state another $170,750 in fines in connection with wage-law violations, according to the data shared Monday by the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.

The new transparency around wage theft violations comes after a Rocky Mountain PBS investigation into Colorado’s wage-theft secrecy in 2015 highlighting how “you can’t know if your favorite bar stiffs its servers” or “if your future employer cheats its workers” because a state law from 1915 allowed companies to keep their wage law violations from the public by claiming the information contained “trade secrets.”

In 2016, state Rep. Jessie Danielson of Wheat Ridge and former state Sen. Jessie Ulibarri of Commerce City, both Democrats, attempted to change the law. They were unsuccessful.
This spring, Danielson tried again. She partnered with state Sen. John Cooke, a Greeley Republican, and ultimately got through the Wage Theft Transparency Act.

The act, signed into law by Gov. John Hickenlooper in April, clarifies that wage law violations are not confidential and should be released to the public. The state still has the ability to withhold some information like an employer’s exact vacation policy if the company can successfully show why the info is a trade secret and shouldn’t be released to the public.

“These companies, in theory, without this new law could continually commit wage theft and continually cheat and steal from their employees,” Danielson said. “This is is the kind of legislation that will protect workers all across the state.”

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Wage Violations Are Now “Public Record” Under Colorado’s New Wage Theft Transparency Act

The National Law Review
Wednesday, April 19, 2017

On April 13, 2017, Governor Hickenlooper signed the Wage Theft Transparency Act into law, which is effective immediately. The Act makes “wage theft” violations in Colorado, including nonpayment of wages or overtime compensation, public record and subject to records requests under the Colorado Open Records Act.

The Act clarifies that information obtained by the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE), relating to a finding by the CDLE that an employer violated Colorado’s wage laws, is not confidential and shall be released to the public or made available for use in a court proceeding, unless the director of the division makes a determination that the information includes specific information that is a trade secret.

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Creating wage theft transparency (CO)

February 2, 2017 10:41 am
Column by Jessie Danielson

Imagine working hard at your job, then discovering that you’ve been cheated out of your wages or benefits when your paycheck arrives. You may have personally experienced something similar – not being paid for overtime worked, having to work off the clock, or other wage law violations.

Perhaps the worse part is that under current state law, employers found guilty of wage theft are shielded from the public eye because an obsolete law classifies wage theft as a “trade secret.”

I believe that is wrong. Hardworking Coloradans deserve better, and the public deserves to know about employers who unfairly cheat their workers. That is why I have introduced the Wage Theft Transparency Act, HB17-1021, which will do away with the 100-year-old state law that shields these companies. Not only will it help workers, but it will even the playing field for the vast majority of Colorado businesses who do not violate wage laws Most companies across the state treat their workers fairly. Most companies and employers do not violate the law or the rights of their employees. They know that hard work should be compensated and good employees are critical to their companies’ success.

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Colorado Loses Millions Each Year to Businesses Misclassifying Workers

By:ANNA BOIKO-WEYRAUCH

Colorado is losing more and more money each year to employers dodging mandatory unemployment insurance premium payments, according to a Rocky Mountain PBS News analysis. The estimated loss is about $23 million dollars a year since 2011.

Employers are required to pay the premiums on their employees. But, by labeling workers “independent contractors” – or unsupervised workers who make their own schedule and are not directed in their responsibilities – companies don’t have to pay.

The problem occurs when an employee is directed and supervised, but labeled an independent contractor anyway.

The construction industry had the highest unpaid insurance premiums and largest number of misclassified workers from 2011 to 2015, according to the analysis of state unemployment insurance audit data. Between 2011 and 2015, random audits of construction companies in Colorado found $1 million dollars in unpaid premiums and 3,433 misclassified workers.

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Colorado House panel votes to crack open records on wage-law violations

Jeff Roberts, Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition
April 22, 2016

Information on employers who violate wage laws in Colorado shouldn’t be considered confidential “trade secrets,” a panel of state lawmakers decided Wednesday.

Currently, as Rocky Mountain PBS reported last spring, it is illegal for the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment to disclose whether a company has cheated its workers. Under the state’s interpretation of a 100-year-old law, wage-theft complaints against employers must be kept from the public, even after an investigation is over and a citation has been issued.

HB 16-1347, which passed the House Judiciary Committee 11-0, would make citation and assessment information on wage-law violations available for inspection under the Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) after an employer has exhausted all appeals.

“Right now, you can’t even get the information that a wage-law violation has happened and why,” said Rep. Jessie Danielson, the Wheat Ridge Democrat who introduced the bill. She said it’s “kind of ridiculous” the public is not permitted to know which employers have been found in violation of state laws governing the payment of wages, overtime and reimbursed expenses.

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With Oil Still In The Doldrums, Wage Theft Claims Have Jumped In Colorado

By DAN BOYCE & INSIDE ENERGY
FEB 25, 2016

Bankruptcies of oilfield companies large and small have grown as prices remain at their lowest levels in a decade or more. But company insolvencies aren’t the only way a worker can be left underpaid. A growing number of oil workers are turning to the courts, saying they weren’t paid fairly – even when times were good.

In Colorado, there were nine times as many wage suits against oil and gas companies in 2015 as there were in 2010.

With the exception of a couple of weeks in November, 28-year-old oil driller Kody Armajo has been out of work for a year. He’s back at home, living with his parents in Riverton, Wyoming.

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DU Launches Study on How Wage Theft Occurs in Construction Industry

By: Anna Boiko-Weyrauch

March 4, 2015

 

A new study seeks to collect detailed information about how wage theft occurs in the construction industry in Colorado. The project, organized by the University of Denver will also extend legal services to research participants who have not received the wages they are owed.

DU students and law professor Raja Raghunath have already been answering legal questions at informal, street-side gatherings in Denver and Aurora where day-laborers assemble to find work.

Researchers expect to interview approximately 75 day-laborers by the time the project is completed next June, University of Denver anthropologist Rebecca Galemba said.

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Editorial: State right to address wage theft

By Jeff Stahla 
POSTED:   01/24/2015 11:42:50 PM MST

 

When the Wage Protection Act went into effect Jan. 1 of this year, it gave the state of Colorado additional tools and authority to address the problem of wage theft.

The act requires employers to keep payroll records for up to three years and gives the Colorado Department of Labor the authority “to mediate situations that are just misunderstandings, investigate when there’s actual wrongdoing, and bring justice,” Rep. Jonathan Singer, a co-sponsor of the act, told the Associated Press.

That includes possible fines against employers who fail to respond to complaints and who are found to have illegally withheld wages from employees who earned them.

The number of state employees involved in investigations is increasing from four to nine, as part of the new law.

The need is clear. The state department of labor has been receiving an average of 5,000 complaints per year, and it has recovered about $1 million in unpaid wages to date, according to a recent I-News report.

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Analysis Finds Rampant Wage Theft Across Colorado

Monday, January 19, 2015
By Rocky Mountain PBS I-News & Anna Boiko-Weyrauch

From telemarketers to tortilla manufacturers, workers in myriad industries have suffered from employers failing to pay them wages they are owed, a Rocky Mountain PBS I-News investigation has found.

While blue-collar workers are most frequently cheated, workers across pay-scales in Colorado are vulnerable to wage theft – a term for employers illegally withholding wages – an analysis of federal enforcement data shows.

Since 2005, the federal Department of Labor has recovered more than $31 million in wages that had been illegally withheld by employers in Colorado in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Across the U.S. the amount of illegally withheld wages was more than $1.4 billion for the same period.

Under the Colorado Wage Claim Act, employers who cheat workers out of wages can face a misdemeanor charge, $300 fine and 30 days in a county jail – penalties the General Assembly put in place in 1941 that have not changed since.

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