Colorado labor department finalizes new wage rules

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Published Tuesday, January 28, 2020

By Michael McGrady | The Center Square

The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment has finalized new rules governing overtime and minimum payment requirements for the state's workers who are eligible for overtime pay. 

According to the department, the 10-month long comment period involved the opinions of more than 1,000 workers and employers. Many testified to the fact that the previous wage order to reform the wage standards in the state was unclear in defining which workers are covered and what the required criteria was to make an employee exempt from the various wage order protections.

"The confusion has made wage disputes more frequent, more prolonged, and more costly for employers and employees alike," the department said in a press release.

The new Colorado Overtime and Minimum Pay Standards (referred to as COMPS) will govern wage requirements moving forward, the department said. The COMPS rules take effect on Mar. 16. 

Under the new rules, an employee has to make at least $35,568 per year, starting in July 2020, to be placed on salary by their employer. The previous threshold was $23,660 per year. The rules also mandate that the threshold must increase to the point that in 2024, the salary threshold is $55,000.

"Thus, COMPS will go no further than a level already in use by many and studied extensively. Listening to public comments, CDLE accommodated employers by lowering and slowing the salary phase-in, from the proposed $42,500 for 2020-21 to, instead, $35,568 as of July 2020, then $40,500 in 2021. CDLE also accommodated worker requests to reach the full salary level sooner, in 2024 rather than 2026," the department said.

Construction workers are now protected under these rules, labor and justice groups say. ACLU of Colorado, too, endorsed the rules that they say will "right past wrongs and make our wage and overtime rules more equitable across gender and races."

The new wage rules protect all private-sector workers unless under an otherwise exempted employment status. These exemptions include those for business owners and folks who own at least a 20 percent stake in a company or if they are the only employee at a nonprofit organization who receives the highest possible compensation from the company.

Farm laborers are also excluded from the COMPS rules. However, like other employee groups, the farm and agricultural employees were given new break and rest-time protections.

Lawyers, doctors, teachers, highly technical workers, executives, and many managers are excluded from the COMPS rules. Volunteers, live-in staff (a babysitter or nanny; a property manager) are exempt, as are elected officials and their hourly staff, and transportation workers and contractors like taxi drivers. 

Ski employees are also not fully covered by the new labor rules. According to the order, ski slope workers who specialize in downhill operations or who serve as food and beverage staff in on-mountain locations are exempt from the 40-hour overtime wage requirements. However, these employees still do qualify for overtime if their shifts exceed 12 hours. Ski lodging and hospitality staff, to note, also are not covered by this partial exemption. 

The statewide minimum wage also holds at $12 per hour. Exempted employees from this salary include rare exemptions such as earners who have reduced minimum work requirements.

The state Department of Labor and Employment released the rules amid a new job report showing unemployment rates in Colorado at a historical low. 

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