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New year, new minimum wage and new paid leave requirements for businesses

As of Jan. 1, businesses with more than 16 employees are now required to provide paid sick leave. Employees will receive an hour of paid leave for every 30 hours worked. Colorado also has increased the state’s minimum wage to $12.32 per hour, up from $12.
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With a new year comes changes for Colorado businesses and employees.

As of Jan. 1, businesses with more than 16 employees are now required to provide paid sick leave. Employees will receive an hour of paid leave for every 30 hours worked.

Colorado also has increased the state’s minimum wage to $12.32 per hour, up from $12. For workers who are eligible for tips, such as restaurant servers, the increase bumps minimum wage from $9.32 to $9.83. 

With many businesses continuing to struggle during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the changes have sparked concern about their impact on bottom lines.

“We had our reservations on it for a while now, and we did end up opposing it for a variety of reasons, however, we do understand the concerns that employees have,” Scott Cook, CEO of the Longmont Area Chamber of Commerce, said of the increase in minimum wage. “Our position on it has been that we thought added expenses for businesses was going to be a lot. Since it is the law, we will assist our businesses on rolling it out.”

The Longmont Chamber is not alone in its their stance, with multiple other chambers and businesses organizations fighting against the minimum wage increase over the past few years, and this year most of the pushback came from concerns over COVID-19. The Longmont Chamber also worries continued increases in employee pay will drive up the costs of items at retail stores and the price of food in restaurants.

“The pandemic is still what is on most people’s minds, so any added costs are difficult when revenue is coming up short,” Cook said.

Colorado is joining 10 other states in mandating paid sick leave, and the debate over requiring employers to provide it has popped up in cities and states around the country. While the argument over sick leave is far from new, the owner of three local businesses that already have similar measures in place said it has benefited him and his employees.

“At all the restaurants, we have all the same values and policies. We don’t have employees that make minimum wage so that’s not an issue, and at all three restaurants we have not only paid sick leave, but just paid time off programs,” said Sean Gafner, who owns three restaurants in Longmont.

With the ongoing pandemic, only Gafner’s Jefes Tacos & Tequila remains open for to-go orders. His other two businesses, The Roost and Smokin Bowls, remain closed until things return to normal even with the recent relaxing of restrictions

“We’ve been doing this for years, even before the pandemic. And in fact we’ve never seen one employee try to take advantage of it in a negative way. Our staff is so happy working here that, if anything, it feels like we have less people being sick and they like knowing they’re building (time off) up,” Gafner said.

For businesses working to implement the changes for the first time, the Longmont Chamber is prepared to help.

“We have a wealth of knowledge from all of our members. So we have attorneys, we have CPAs, we have all the professions and we are constantly connecting our members in need to other members,” Cook said. “And then of course, we have our resources amongst all our economic partners, such as the Northeast Chamber Alliance, and advocacy partners, so we can always find an answer for our members.” 

Next year the requirement to provide paid sick leave will expand to all Colorado businesses that are not federally regulated. This law is separate from 2020’s sick leave requirement put in place to help combat the pandemic.