Colorado workers are ringing in the new year with an important new protection: On January 1, 2024, benefits begin under the state’s paid family and medical leave law. Voters passed Proposition 118 in 2020, making the Centennial State the first—and, so far, the only—state in the country to enact paid family and medical leave benefits by ballot initiative. Colorado joins nine states and Washington, D.C., in providing these benefits; four more states will begin providing benefits in 2026.
Here are the key facts about the law.
What will the law do?
Starting January 1, 2024, Colorado’s law will guarantee workers in the state the right to paid family and medical leave when they cannot work due to serious health or caregiving needs.
Who does the law cover?
The law cover nearly all Colorado employees, including both private sector and state government employees. Local government employees are automatically covered unless the local government opts out; when local governments opt out of coverage, individual local government employees can still elect coverage for cash benefits for themselves. The law covers employees regardless of employer size and includes both full-time and part-time workers. As in most state paid leave programs, self-employed people can voluntarily opt in to coverage.
What kinds of leave does the law provide?
Colorado’s law provides:
Who is eligible for benefits?
To be eligible, workers need to have earned at least $2,500 in total over a designated one-year period prior to taking leave.
Benefits are portable, meaning that income earned across all covered Colorado employers in the base period counts toward the total; someone who recently changed jobs can count income from their past job as well as their current job, while someone with two jobs can count income from both. In other words, workers keep their eligibility for the monetary benefits, even as they change employers, and may be eligible for monetary benefits as soon as they start with an employer if they were previously eligible.
How much time can workers take?
Under Colorado’s law, workers can take leave for up to 12 weeks per year for any combination of covered needs. In addition, workers “with a serious health condition related to pregnancy complications or childbirth complications” can take up to four more weeks, for a total of up to 16 week per year.
What family members can workers use leave to care for?
For the purposes of Colorado’s law, a family member includes a worker’s spouse or domestic partner, child, parent, sibling, grandchild, or grandparent, as well as many additional relationships by marriage, such as parents-in-law. The definition of family also includes: “As shown by the covered individual, any other individual with whom the covered individual has a significant personal bond that is or is like a family relationship, regardless of biological or legal relationship.” This additional category ensures Colorado workers can care for chosen family members—loved ones to whom they may not have a legal or biological relationship.
Will workers’ jobs be protected while they take leave?
As long as workers were employed by their current employer for at least 180 days prior to their leave, they have the affirmative right to get their job or an equivalent job back following leave.
Regardless of how long they have been employed with their employer, employees who receive health insurance through their employer also have the right to keep their coverage while on leave under Colorado’s paid leave law. In addition, employers are prohibited from interfering with employees’ rights or retaliating against employees for using their rights.
How much money will workers receive when they take leave?
Wage replacement rates—the percentage of workers’ own income that they receive while on leave—are progressive under Colorado’s law. This means lower-income workers receive a higher percentage of their own income, with a sliding scale of lower percentages as workers earn more. Progressive wage replacement balances the need for lower-income workers to receive as high as possible a percentage of their own income while on leave with the need to keep program costs, which are ultimately borne at least in part by workers, affordable.
- 90 percent of the portion of their weekly wages that is less than or equal to 50 percent of the state average weekly wage
- 50 percent of the portion of their weekly wages that is more than 50 percent of the state average weekly wage
Benefits are initially capped at $1,100 per week; starting in 2025, the cap will be adjusted to an amount equal to 90 percent of the state average weekly wage. In 2023, 50 percent of the state average weekly wage is equal to $710.58.
How does the state pay for the program?
The program is funded through contributions from employers and employees as a percentage of income, which began on January 1, 2023. Contributions are shared evenly between employers and employees, unless employers voluntarily choose to cover the full cost; currently, employees and employers each pay 0.45 percent of the employee’s income. The amount of income subject to the contribution is capped at the amount of income per employee subject to Social Security contributions, which for 2024 is $168,600. Employers with fewer than 10 employees are not required to pay the employer share of the contribution, which the fund absorbs; employees at small employers pay the same amount as those at larger employers.
In the future, the total rate will be adjusted annually based on program usage, with employees and employers continuing to split the total rate 50/50.
How will workers access benefits?
Like other state paid leave programs, Colorado’s law operates as an insurance system. This means that, typically, when workers need benefits, they apply to the state, which will process their claim and pay benefits out of the state insurance fund. Employers do not need to pay employees while they are on leave.
Employers can request special permission to provide benefits through a private plan. With an approved private plan, workers are entitled to the exact same benefits but apply for and receive benefits from the equivalent plan, such as a commercial insurance policy, rather than through the state. Equivalent plans are subject to strict rules and oversight.
In 2020, Coloradans resoundingly voted to enact their state’s paid family and medical leave law—an investment in their health, their financial security, and their state’s economy. In 2024, that investment will pay off, in the form of paid, protected time off for many workers and priceless peace of mind for many, many more.