On pregnancy and personnel-file measures, Colorado business leaders strike a balance
Apr 26, 2016, 6:28pm MDT
Ed Sealover | Denver Business Journal
Working with sponsoring Rep. Faith Winter, D-Westminster, business groups changed both bills to ensure they do not create new burdens on company owners.
Colorado business leaders might be assumed to have little reason to support legislative measures that would force them to make greater accommodations for pregnant workers and to sit down with sometimes-disgruntled workers to show them what’s in their personnel files.
But by the time a Colorado legislative committee gave bipartisan approval to the pregnancy-accommodations measure on Tuesday, business groups had negotiated changes to both bills to the point where they went neutral on the proposals — statehouse jargon for neither supporting nor opposing the bills — because they felt that neither would create problems for company owners.
As a result, the sponsor of both bills, Democratic Rep. Faith Winter of Westminster, may have put both bills in position to make it through the Republican-controlled Senate, which has looked askance at virtually every regulatory proposal that’s come its way this year.
“I don’t believe that they are burdensome to employers — either one of these,” said Loren Furman, the senior vice president for the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry who has been at the lead in negotiating for changes to the proposals.
House Bill 1438 — which got the support of two of the six Republicans and all seven of the Democrats on the House Health, Insurance and Environment Committee on Tuesday — would make it an unfair practice if employers do not provide reasonable accommodations to workers who are pregnant or recently gave birth.
Those accommodations include increased bathroom breaks or water, a reduction in heavy lifting, and seating for workers such as cashiers who may otherwise be standing all day.
Winter, who had two pregnancies that she termed difficult, introduced the measure after hearing stories of retail workers who were forced to lift 50-pound boxes or stand at a register while carrying their unborn children.
But she and sponsoring Sen. Beth Martinez Humenik, R-Thornton, emphasized that they wanted to strike a balance between the needs of the employer and the needs of the worker as well.
To do that, business leaders like Furman persuaded Winter to add language saying that companies do not have to add a new, less physically strenuous position for a worker if one does not currently exist.
A new provision notes the company does not have to grant any particular leave, paid or unpaid. And a last-minute addition in committee on Tuesday states that if an employee sues a company for violating the new law, a court cannot issue punitive damages if their employer made good-faith efforts to accommodate their needs.
Those negotiations were similar to the talks surrounding HB 1432, a Winter-sponsored bill that allows employees and recently former employees to access their personnel files no more than once a year.
The 2016 version of that bill was changed from a failed 2015 effort to ensure that workers did not have a right to sue over problems with enforcement of the law, among other things, and it passed the House Monday on a 39-26 vote that included the support of five Republicans.
Winter wasn’t involved as much in the negotiations over the personnel-file bill, as she signed onto sponsor that measure after business and worker-advocacy groups had negotiated for several months about its details.
But at a time when many members of both parties are running “statement” bills that are meant to send a message to potential voters in the upcoming election far more than they are aimed at actually passing through both the Republican Senate and the Democratic House to become law, Furman complimented Winter on her ability to find a place
where all sides could come together on a few issues in this contentious session.
“She’s been great. She pushes back where she needs to push back,” Furman said of Winter. “She can see clearly through arguments and knows what she wants.”
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