Colorado Criminalizes Employers' Failure to Pay Wages

100 dollar bills in wallet

Starting in 2020, High-Level Wage Theft May Constitute a Felony

In May 2019, Colorado enacted a law reclassifying the failure to pay employee wages as “theft.” Beginning January 1, 2020, the law will penalize employers who either refuse to pay the compensation promised to their workers or challenge valid wage complaints.

Though wage theft is illegal under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), employers who repeatedly or knowingly break the rules face fines of up to $1,000. Companies are required to reimburse employees for unpaid earnings if found guilty of wage theft, but often the penalty fails to sufficiently disincentivize unfair payment practices. Colorado is joining a small group of states that will prosecute the offense as a criminal violation as well.

What’s New in Colorado Wage Law?

Increased penalties and higher charges are the biggest change brought about by HB19-1267, which addresses failure to pay wages. Previously, employers would receive an unclassified misdemeanor if found guilty of wage theft; they would be fined either $300 (for nonpayment of wages) or $500 (for sub-minimum wage payments). When the new law goes into effect, employers may be charged with a petty, misdemeanor, or felony theft. Employers who fail to pay $2,000 or more will gain a felony record if found guilty.

Colorado law adopts the definition of “employer” specified by the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to include contract workers like field laborers and crew leaders. Also included will be employers operating in the cannabis industry, even though the production and distribution of cannabis is still illegal at the federal level. Though cannabis businesses may have been hoping to evade regulations due to the legal grey area they operate in, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals recently affirmed that employees in these industries are entitled to the same labor protections​as everyone else.

Do You Need Help with a Wage Theft Claim?

Over 600,000 Coloradans work in “high risk” industries when it comes to wage theft. This issue disproportionately affects immigrants, people younger than 25, and people over 65. Wage theft is most common for workers in:

  • Food service
  • Construction
  • Oil & gas
  • Administrative support
  • Waste management
  • Schools
  • Security or patrol
  • State corrections

However, any company from a small mom & pop shop to a multinational corporation can commit wage theft. If you are not receiving minimum wage, overtime pay, or other benefits you’ve been promised or are legally guaranteed, you may have grounds for a lawsuit.

USA Employment Lawyers are licensed to practice in Florida, Illinois and Colorado. ​Reach out to our team online or call (800) 483-0998 for your free and confidential case evaluation with our employment law attorney.

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