When Colorado companies cheat their workers, this bill would make that information public record

Brighton Boulevard under much construction. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)construction; development; brighton; rino; kevinjbeaty; denver; denverite; colorado;

By James Anderson, Associated Press

For about a century, any finding by Colorado labor officials that an employer cheated his or her workers on wages has been considered a trade secret that’s off-limits to the public.

That may change this year after a House panel unanimously approved a bill Thursday to include those findings under Colorado’s Open Records Act. 

Sponsored by Democratic Rep. Jessie Danielson, the bill would allow citizens to know if they are patronizing or considering employment with an offender — and level the playing field for the vast majority of employers who abide by wage, overtime and other pay laws or contracts.

It would make that information subject to records requests after an employer has exhausted all appeals.

“Most companies across the state of Colorado value their workers,” Danielson told the House Judiciary Committee. “However, in some cases wage theft does occur. Employees are asked to work off the clock, or don’t get overtime pay.”

In 2016, there were 274 wage claim violations, according to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. Because those cases are kept secret under state law, “these bad actors are shielded and are less likely to value their employees,” Danielson said.

A similar bill failed last year in the Republican-led Senate.

Since then, Danielson worked with the National Federation of Independent Businesses, the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry, the Plaintiff Employment Lawyers Association and other groups to specify that only final determinations of a wage violation — after appeals — would be subject to open records requests.

Patrick Teagarden, director of policy and legislation for the Department of Labor and Employment, called it “a common sense application of open records.”

The committee voted 11-0 to send the bill to the House floor for debate. Danielson said she hoped the bipartisan support Thursday would improve its prospects in the Senate.

Correction: The Associated Press misspelled the first name of the bill sponsor in the original version of this story. She is Rep. Jessie Danielson, not Jesse.