Is Colorado a Right to Work State?

FT Contributor  | 

What Is Right to Work?

The federal government allows states to decide whether to enact right-to-work laws. The right to work pertains to labor unions and their relationship to unionized company employees. Workers who are employed in a right-to-work state have union member rights when they work for a unionized employer, whether or not they contribute regular dues to a labor union.

Employees who formally join the union and work in a right-to-work state can cancel their union membership at any time without losing their job with a unionized employer. If these employees are part of a unit of employees at the company who share similar duties, wages, benefits, and working conditions, they still have equal representation from the union along with their co-workers. This representation exists even if they voluntarily withdraw their membership.

States that enact right-to-work laws allow employees in unionized companies to choose whether they want to be members of the union or not. No matter what they decide, their employment rights are still protected and supported by the union. While these employees aren’t required to pay regular union dues, they may still be responsible for the costs associated with legal union representation if they ask for assistance pursuing a case against their employer.

At-Will Employment

While the terms “right to work” and “at-will employment” seem to have a similar connotation, they’re different laws. Right-to-work laws don’t protect employees from at-will employment laws. They can’t ensure an employee is guaranteed employment for a specific period of time.

Federal at-will employment legislation is enacted in all states. This legislation states that employers have the right to terminate their employment contract with employees at any time. At-will employment also allows employees to terminate their employment contract with their employers at any time.

Employers or workers can exercise their at-will employment rights and terminate their contract without reason, explanation, or warning. This law also allows employers to change employment terms at any time. This may include a change in wages, hours, duties, or benefits, such as paid time off.

Keep in mind, employees are still protected by federal and state wrongful termination laws. With this legislation in place, employers are prohibited from terminating employees due to certain characteristics, including their:

  • Religion;
  • Race;
  • Gender;
  • Disability status;
  • Health;
  • Sexual orientation.

It’s also illegal for employers to terminate employees as retaliation for them speaking out against company policy or co-worker behaviors. Employees who are terminated in certain situations, such as layoffs, may qualify for severance packages depending on company policy.

Is Colorado a Right-to-Work State?

There is no federal right-to-work law so each state is responsible for deciding whether to enact this legislation. Colorado is not currently a right-to-work state.

When Can You Be Fired in Colorado?

While Colorado isn’t a right to work state, all states adhere to employment at-will laws. Therefore, you may be terminated from your job at any time without explanation or warning. Some common reasons you may be fired from your job include the following:

  • Your employer halts operations and closes its doors.
  • You don’t follow the company’s time-off policies.
  • The company needs to downsize and you lose your position.
  • You steal goods, money, or services from the company.
  • Your position no longer exists within the company’s organization.
  • Your performance is lacking.
  • You’re consistently late or leaving early.
  • You use the company’s resources and time to conduct personal business.

While there are many reasons your employer may let you go, most companies attempt to avoid termination of employment. Your employer may issue warnings for your behavior before considering your termination. If you live in a right-to-work state and work for a unionized employer, you may seek representation from the labor union if you feel you’ve been wrongfully terminated.

Other Colorado Labor Laws

Although Colorado doesn’t impose right-to-work laws, the state does have other labor-related legislation that protects your employment rights as a resident.

Colorado Minimum Wage

The Colorado minimum wage is currently set at $12 an hour, which is much higher than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. As a worker in the state of Colorado, your employer must pay you at least $12 per hour, unless your job includes tips as compensation, you’re a newly employed worker, or you’re a student.

Child Labor Laws

There are many child labor laws enacted under the Colorado Youth Law to protect children from unfair working conditions and hours. Children under 18 who have not received their high school diploma or GED cannot work more than 40 hours per week or eight hours per day.

On school days, minors under 16 cannot work at all unless approved by the school. If the next day is a school day, these minors are also not permitted to work from 9:30 p.m. to 5 a.m.

Colorado Civil Rights Laws

In addition to federal laws that protect workers from discriminatory employment practices, Colorado also upholds state legislation to combat discrimination in the workplace.

Under the Colorado Wage Act, employers cannot discriminate against employees and treat them unfairly or terminate them based on race, religion, nationality, creed, or ancestry. Employers cannot treat employees differently or fire them in regards to their sexual orientation, physical or mental disabilities, age, or gender.

Pregnancy Discrimination Act

The Colorado Pregnant Workers Fairness Act protects pregnant workers from discrimination or unfair treatment in the workplace. In addition to anti-discrimination laws that prohibit employers from firing employees due to pregnancy, this legislation encourages employers to provide reasonable accommodations for pregnant employees. Accommodations may include a modified work schedule, longer breaks, or limitations on physical work.

Unemployment Laws

Colorado residents who are terminated through no fault of their own have the right to claim unemployment benefits in the state. Unemployed residents must file a claim with the Department of Labor and Employment, meet specific eligibility guidelines, and are required to actively search for work while receiving benefits.

Worker’s Compensation Laws

Private and public employers operating in Colorado with one or more full-time or part-time workers must carry adequate worker’s compensation insurance. Employees who are injured on the job or while performing work-related duties may file a claim on their employer’s worker’s compensation policy to pay for medical treatment and expenses. Employers are also required to provide a safe working environment and safety equipment as needed for workers.

Although Colorado is not a right-to-work state, the government upholds several laws to protect workers. If you’re employed in Colorado, it’s important to know your rights so you can ensure you’re being treated fairly and ethically by your employer.


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