While many Coloradoans are taking advantage of their last few ski days of the season, the Colorado legislature has been busy passing new, groundbreaking legislation with respect to civil unions and the use of individual credit histories in employment decisions. How will this new legislation affect employers? Read on.

Colorado Civil Union Act

On March 21, 2013, Governor John Hickenlooper signed the Colorado Civil Union Act (SB13-011) (PDF) into law, authorizing 2 unmarried adults, regardless of gender, to enter into a civil union.

Effective May 1, 2013, among other rights, benefits and protections, the Colorado Civil Union Act provides that parties to a civil union in Colorado are granted the following:

  • Dependent coverage under health insurance policies for plans issued, delivered, or renewed on or after January 1, 2014;
  • Dependent coverage under life insurance for plans issued, delivered, or renewed on or after January 1, 2014;
  • Prohibitions against discrimination based upon spousal status;
  • Survivor benefits under and inclusion in workers’ compensation laws;
  • The right of a partner in a civil union to be treated as a family member or as a spouse under the “Colorado Employment Security Act” for purposes of unemployment benefits;
  • Eligibility for family leave benefits;
  • The ability to insure a party to a civil union under group benefit plans for state employees;
  • The ability to designate a party to a civil union as a beneficiary under the state public employees retirement SB13-01 system;
  • Survivor benefits under local government firefighter and police pensions;
  • Protections and coverage under domestic abuse and domestic violence laws; and
  • The ability to file a claim based on wrongful death, emotional distress, loss of consortium, dram shop, or other laws, whether common law or statutory, related to or dependent upon spousal status.

CBS 4 Denver reported on the signing of this historical legislation in Colorado, and also discussed that there are many supporters of same sex marriage who believe that the Civil Union Act was passed too soon in Colorado and will create complications involving 2 separate and unequal classes of citizens (i.e., same sex couples in a “civil union” and those in a “marriage”). The United States Supreme Court is currently hearing arguments on the constitutionality of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which is certain to have an impact on Colorado’s new law.

Employment Opportunity Act

On March 25, 2013, the House passed its Third Reading of the Employment Opportunity Act (SB13-018) (PDF), which sets forth the permissible use of credit information with regard to hiring and other employment decisions. I previously posted a summary of the Employment Opportunity Act, which affects all employers in Colorado with 4 or more employees.

Now that the Employment Opportunity Act has passed the Senate and the House, the bill will briefly go back to the Senate (where the bill originated) to approve the amendments by the House. If the Senate accepts the changes, which is anticipated, it goes to the Governor to be vetoed or signed into law. Will the Governor sign the Employment Opportunity Act into law? It is likely not a matter of if but when, and all signs point to the final stamp of approval soon since the Act’s effective date is July 1, 2013.

By the way, if anyone is interested to see how a bill becomes law in Colorado, the Colorado Legislative website has published a fantastic flow chart (PDF) regarding the legislative process.

What Should Employers Do Now?

Small, medium and large sized businesses/employers must be aware of these new rights, benefits and protections that go into effect May 1, 2013 (Civil Union Act) and July 1, 2013 (Employment Opportunity Act). Steps should be taken to modify benefit policies and enrollment forms relating to individuals in civil unions for Colorado plans issued or renewed on or after January 1, 2014. In addition, employers are wise to dust off and review their employment policies to ensure all written policies are fully compliant with these and all other applicable new laws.

Last but not least, do not hesitate to engage competent employment counsel, before a claim arises, so that you are properly informed of and can stay on top of the ever-changing laws, rules and regulations affecting employment in Colorado.