Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Colorado House bill would shine light on businesses that violate wage laws

An employee who steals from a Colorado business can be prosecuted, sent to prison and forever tarred in the public record as a convicted thief.

But when a business rips off an employee — say, by denying overtime pay or forcing someone to work off the clock — they can skirt public scrutiny by claiming it’s a “trade secret.”

A bill in the Colorado House seeks to change that.

Sponsored by House Speaker Pro Tem Jessie Danielson, House Bill 1021 would clarify that state Department of Labor and Employment rulings against companies that violate wage laws are subject to the Colorado Open Records Act.

“Right now they can do it and then no one knows,” said Danielson, D-Wheat Ridge.

  • State law today doesn’t clearly prohibit the release of wage violation records, but a century-old law has long been interpreted to favor non-disclosure. It says anything that “might reveal a trade secret” is considered confidential.
  • Contrast that with what happens when a company violates federal labor laws. The Department of Labor actively publicizes findings, sending out more than a dozen news releases in December alone.

    Danielson’s bill wouldn’t require the state to publicize the determinations, but it would make the final rulings open to public inspection. The complaints themselves are not public, and rulings can’t be disclosed until a company has been given a chance to appeal.

    The bill passed out of the House Judiciary Committee 11-0 Thursday with bipartisan support, but it’s still not guaranteed to clear the Senate. Despite bipartisan support a year ago, the measure passed the House but couldn’t advance past the committee level in the Republican-controlled Senate.

    “I have been working very hard to find any opposition to this bill so I can address it,” Danielson said. “All I find are business organizations that are fine with it.”