DENVER, CO – The House Judiciary Committee today passed legislation to improve safety and equity in the workplace by implementing critical anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies. SB23-172, sponsored by Rep. Mike Weissman and Assistant Majority Leader Jennifer Bacon passed committee by a vote of 8 to 5.
“Workplace discrimination and harassment must not be tolerated, and we need to modernize Colorado’s outdated laws to protect workers, hold harassers accountable and create safer workspaces,” said Rep. Mike Weissman, Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, D-Aurora. “Power and protection need to be on the side of the worker – and the POWR Act improves accountability so the state can hold harassers in the workplace for their actions. Survivors’ voices and concerns need to be taken seriously, which is why I’m also proud to champion legislation to prioritize survivors of crime by improving notifications regarding release from parole."
“Harassment and discrimination persist every day in Colorado workplaces, which is why modernizing our laws to protect workers is long overdue,” said Rep. Jennifer Bacon, Vice Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, D-Denver. “We need to do everything we can to make it possible for Coloradans to earn a living and pursue careers without being harassed. The POWR Act improves accountability measures and works to create safer, more equitable workspaces. This bill will hold bad actors accountable so workers can thrive in the workplace free from harassment and discrimination.”
SB23-172, the Protecting Opportunity & Workers’ Rights (POWR) Act, would update the definition of harassment and specify that harassment does not need to be “severe or pervasive” to constitute a discriminatory or unfair practice. The bill also deters future harassment by modernizing language around non-disclosure agreements, expanding protections for people with disabilities, and adding marital status as a protected class.
Eliminating the excessive “severe or pervasive'' hostile work environment requirements and replacing them with clear standards for “harass” and “harassment” considers the totality of the circumstances, and will allow survivors of discrimination and harassment to better pursue justice. The POWR Act also removes the language in the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act (CADA) that permits employers to discriminate against people with disabilities or refuse to accommodate them if “the disability has a significant impact on the job.”
Additionally, the bill establishes an affirmative defense for an employer if the employer meets certain requirements, including establishing a harassment prevention program, taking prompt action in response to a complaint, and keeping records of any complaints.
The House Judiciary Committee also passed SB23-193, sponsored by Rep. Mike Weissman and Assistant Minority Leader Rose Pugliese, unanimously.
SB23-193 aims to prioritize survivors by setting the offender’s release date for parole 15 days after providing notice to the victim. This bill would require the Department of Corrections (DOC) and any other state or local government agency, to provide survivor notifications in easy-to-understand language, using recommendations from victim advocates.
If the victim chose to receive notifications, SB23-193 would work to improve communications between the DOC and survivors by giving them advanced notice of their offender’s parole release, in addition to their offender's discharge, transfer, escape, abscondence, unauthorized absence, or parole proceeding.