Democrats want to extend whistleblower protections for Colorado workers beyond public health emergency The Denver Post

A law passed in 2020 to protect employees who raise concerns about workplace violations of health and safety during a declared public health emergency has resulted in 126 complaints alleging retaliation since it was signed into law.

Colorado House Rep. Leslie Herod, a Denver Democrat, says this is evidence that HB20-1415, passed mostly along party lines, is working. Herod, Sen. Robert Rodriguez, Sen. Brittany Pettersen and Rep. Tom Sullivan plan to introduce another whistleblower bill this week that would expand these protections for private and public sector workers even beyond a declared public health emergency.

The bill aims to prevent employers from discriminating or retaliating against their workers for bringing up safety concerns and would allow employees to file related complaints to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment for review before taking issues to court.

Herod provided data from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment during a news conference Wednesday and said the state agency is actively investigating eight complaints under the 2020 law, with 30 in review pending a notice of right to sue. Of 96 claims reviewed and full investigations of 11, seven resulted in settlements, four in a final determination, 33 issued a notice of right to sue, four withdrew their complaints and the remainder were dismissed.

“… we know and I think we can all agree that no one in our state should fear losing their job or being retaliated against, losing wages, just for standing up for their own rights,” she said. “The pandemic exposed many health and safety concerns in the workplace, but those concerns existed long before COVID and will continue to exist after the emergency declaration and we are through this pandemic.”

Samantha Scarborough, an ICU nurse and union member of CWA 7799 shared her own experiences working in a busy hospital during the pandemic where employees were using masks beyond their recommended use, sharing respirators and working with what she called unsafe staffing levels.

“Without whistleblower protection, things like this go unchecked,” Scarborough said at the event Wednesday. “The protection empowers workers to speak up. It empowers them to make a change in a positive way instead of being afraid or just quitting. If we have any hope of keeping this crumbling healthcare system standing and improving, people on the frontline need protection to help make that change.”

Educators have also been dealing with these types of issues, according to Robin Handy from the Douglas County Federation, which represents teachers and staff. Handy said the group had to get involved in a case with one educator who had reported safety measures not being followed in a school, first to the principal and then to the director of schools when nothing changed. The teacher ultimately received a disciplinary letter for unprofessional conduct and negative marks on an evaluation, Handy said, before the group intervened.

“All employees including teachers and staff deserve to work in an environment free from retaliation when reporting unsafe and inappropriate practices,” Handy said.

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