Colorado Just Became One of The First States to Approve Paid Family and Medical Leave

Supermajority Education Fund

November 12, 2020

While the media’s attention was largely trained on the presidential race on election day, Coloradans passed an important proposition worthy of widespread attention; Proposition 118 guarantees that every resident — including the self-employed and gig workers — will have access to paid medical and family leave. 

Under Proposition 118, both workers and employers will pay weekly into a statewide pool of funds managed by the state’s Department of Labor. In 2024, workers will be able to apply for funds to cover the time they take off from work. They would be eligible for as much as $1,100 per week of paid time off.

Supporters and community advocates who campaigned for the proposition’s passage say access to paid leave will have an immediate impact on thousands of Colorado families. Not only will this be the first time many Coloradans will have access to paid family and medical leave, but having that access will “be life-changing,” according to Kaitlin Altone, a paid leave organizer at the workers’ rights advocacy group 9to5.

“I’ve been told stories about cancer diagnoses, parenting kids with chronic illnesses, pregnancy complications, mental health conditions, parents who want to bond with their new children, women who have been continuously pushed out of their jobs because they needed to care for a family member, and more,” Altone told Supermajority News.

“When I talk with community members, many wonder why we didn’t have this already, especially when you look at the rest of the world,” said Altone, adding that 9to5 and others have been pushing for similar leave proposals in Colorado for years. The United States is currently one of the only countries in the developed world without either paid sick leave or paid family leave, and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has further exposed the cracks in our existing systems to many workers.

Altone noted that it was particularly significant that all workers would have access to the paid leave benefit regardless of whether they were full-time or not. Previously, workers who did not have paid leave through their employers “have had to choose between making a paycheck and caring for themselves and their families, or have been pushed out of the workforce entirely because they are unable to work,” she noted. 

While talking with voters about the benefits of the proposal, 9to5 organizers focused on the impact access to paid leave would have on Colorado’s communities of color in particular because they “have carried the largest burden in the unmet need for paid leave,” noted Altone. “When Proposition 118 goes into effect, workers will have the financial security to do what is best for themselves and their families during these life events.”

While several lobbying groups for business owners stridently opposed the bill because they said it served as an additional tax on small businesses and corporations, Altone noted that many voters warmed to the proposal after learning how the proposition would be funded. Both workers and employers would be required to contribute 0.45% of their weekly paychecks into the Department of Labor pool. Businesses with nine or fewer employees could opt out of the program, while self-employed people and gig workers could opt into paying into the pool. Workers will then be able to apply for funds beginning in 2024. 

National advocates are hopeful Colorado’s new paid leave program will also serve as a model for other states eager to address the need for better leave policies for workers.

“Public support has always been high for paid leave, in both parties. This victory reinforced that paid leave is not a partisan issue,” Dawn Huckelbridge, the director of the advocacy group Paid Leave for All, told Supermajority News. Huckelbridge noted that the proposition received a majority of votes even in Colorado counties in which the majority voted for President Trump. “Paid leave has enjoyed support from a supermajority of voters, from small businesses, from labor, from military families. And this pandemic has only magnified how critical it is to our collective recovery and to building back better, and that’s something that can unite us.”