By Kim Adamson

In this month’s two-part series article about the diverse leave laws in Colorado, we will delve into the Family Medical Leave Act, Family and Medical Leave Insurance, and the Healthy Families Workplace Act. Next month’s article will cover additional aspects such as short-term and long-term disability, company-paid leave/paid time off, other required leaves in Colorado, and workers’ compensation leave.

Colorado’s leave laws, both unpaid and paid, significantly impact employers and employees. For instance, under the federal Family Medical Leave Act, an employee’s leave of absence provides job-protected leave but no pay. In contrast, Colorado’s Family and Medical Leave Insurance and Healthy Families Workplace Act, or a company’s disability insurance program, do provide paid leave or income replacement for the employee. A leave of absence due to a work-related injury would fall under the state’s Workers’ Compensation laws.

The eligibility requirements for paid or unpaid leave of absence differ significantly. Below is a brief overview of FMLA, FAMLI, and HFWA leave of absence laws that currently apply in Colorado:

  1. Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
    • FMLA is a federal law that applies to covered employers with 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius. Employees are eligible for FMLA leave from covered employers if they have worked for at least 1,250 hours in the 12 months before taking leave.
    • FMLA is unpaid job-protected leave for certain qualifying family and medical reasons.
      • Under FMLA, eligible employees can take up to 12 workweeks of leave in a 12-month period for the following reasons:
        • The birth and care of the newborn child of an employee
        • The placement with the employee of a child for adoption or foster care
        • The employee’s serious physical or mental health condition and are unable to work
        • The employee to care for an immediate family member (i.e., spouse, child, or parent) with a serious physical or health condition
        • Certain qualifying reasons related to the foreign deployment of an employee’s spouse, child, or parent who is a military servicemember
      • An eligible employee who is the spouse, child, parent, or next of kin of a covered servicemember with a serious injury or illness may take up to 26 workweeks of FMLA leave in a single 12-month period to care for the servicemember
  2.  Family and Medical Leave Insurance (FAMLI):
    • FAMLI was a significant change for Colorado employees, ensuring access to paid leave for various life circumstances.
    • Colorado employers with ten or more employees nationwide are required to participate in the FAMLI program. In mid-2023, employers could apply to the FAMLI agency to approve a private plan.
    • Colorado local government employers could conduct a vote to opt out of participating in FAMLI. Employees of an opted-out local government employer can self-elect to participate but must submit their own wage reports and FAMLI premiums. (Note: Important information and requirements are available on FAMLI’s website:
    • Both employers and employees started premium contributions to the program in January 2023. Claims for FAMLI benefits began in January 2024.
    • Covered Colorado employees may receive up to twelve weeks of leave per year to:
      • Bond with a new child, including adopted and fostered children.
      • Care for themselves if they have a serious health condition.
      • Care for a family member’s serious health condition.
      • Make arrangements for a family member’s military deployment.
      • Address the immediate safety needs and impact of domestic violence and/or sexual assault.
      • Those who experience pregnancy or childbirth complications may receive an additional four weeks for a total of 16 weeks per year.
  3. Paid Sick Leave under the Colorado Healthy Families and Workplaces Act (HFWA):
    • The HFWA mandates that all Colorado employers, regardless of size or industry, provide all employees (including full-time, part-time, seasonal, and temporary, excluding only federal government employees and some railroad employees) with two types of paid sick leave: accrued leave and public health emergency (PHE) leave. Note that PHE is not currently in effect but may apply during public health emergencies designated by State public officials.
    • The employer must provide 1 hour of accrued paid sick leave per 30 hours the employee works, up to 48 hours per year.
    • Accrued paid sick leave can be used for a wide range of health and safety needs, as indicated below:
      • Inability to work due to a mental or physical illness, injury, or health condition.
      • Obtaining preventive medical care (including vaccination) or medical diagnosis/care/treatment.
      • Needs due to domestic abuse, sexual assault, or criminal harassment, including medical attention, mental health care or other counseling, legal or other victim services, or relocation.
      • Care for a family member who needs the type of care indicated for an employee.
      • During a PHE, a public official closes the employee’s workplace or the school or place of care of the employee’s child.
      • Bereavement or financial/legal needs after the death of a family member or
      • Due to inclement weather, power/heat/water loss, or other unexpected event, the employee must evacuate their residence or care for a family member whose school or place of care was closed.
    • Employers must maintain proper documentation of leave usage.

Employer Considerations

When an employee informs the employer about a need for a leave of absence, employers should consider the following issues to determine the appropriate action to be taken:

  • What paid and/or unpaid leave is the employee eligible for?
  • If multiple leaves apply, should the leaves run concurrently?
  • What company policies apply? Review current policies, processes, and current laws to determine what has changed and update as needed. Communicate and provide written notification of changes to employees.
  • What pay is the employee eligible to receive? Update and notify the company’s payroll department of the employee’s leave and payment details.
  • What documentation must be given to the employee to ensure clear communication about the leave of absence and return-to-work deadlines, any other additional benefits that may apply (e.g., short-term or long-term disability or workers’ compensation), and the process and cost for continuing health benefits?
  • What certifications are required from a healthcare provider regarding the leave, the length of leave, and any documentation related to return to work and work restrictions, if any?

Understanding these laws is crucial for both employers and employees. Various leave of absence laws in Colorado, such as FMLA, FAMLI, HFWA, and STD benefits, each serve distinct purposes. Still, they can intersect when an employee faces health-related challenges. Employers should have clear policies to address these scenarios and support their employees effectively, which ensures compliance with the laws and fosters a healthy work-life balance and successful workplace. Specific details may vary based on company policies and benefit programs, so working with the Human Resources and benefits departments for information and guidance is essential!