SB-176 would mire businesses in litigation.
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Refine the bill to avoid unintended outcomes.
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Colorado Springs businesses dodged a bullet when Senate Bill 176 was laid over in committee — but that means the issues addressed in it might come back around later this session or in future sessions.
Businesses are finally seeing the light at the end of a devastating year, but SB-176 — the General Assembly’s attempt at a package meant to help workers — makes that light look more like an oncoming train.
The bill, opposed by the Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC, is supposed to help workers fight discrimination, but instead creates a scenario that will keep businesses in the courtroom fighting expensive battles.
The goal is laudable; the methods to meet it are not. The Business Journal supports anti-discrimination legislation, supports hiring a diverse workforce and believes wholeheartedly in inclusion and equity at work.
That’s not the issue.
The issue is that some legislators want to allow workers to file a claim in any court with jurisdiction — without first exhausting civil administration remedies. It creates a path for frivolous lawsuits that can damage reputations and harm businesses, and claimants would no longer have to follow procedures already in place to ferret out hostile workplaces and discriminatory practices. All an employee would have had to do is notify the employer of the complaint, give them 14 days to respond and then file the suit. That’s not much time to investigate, much less find solutions.
You know who wins in this scenario?Attorneys would get some new clients, but the process would drive up the cost of worker discrimination claims and increase the time it takes to resolve issues. And it requires that both the worker and the business owner foot the legal bills.
Under the bill, independent contractors, subcontractors and volunteers, as well as employees, could file suit or their behavior could lead to people outside the business filing suit against the business. The issue: Employers can’t exercise direct control or supervision over independent contractors. Yet the law would hold businesses responsible for their actions.
And it limits confidentiality for business and business owners involved in settlements and removes one benefit of reaching a settlement out of court: That the business’ reputation survives because those settlements are private.
Again, who wins? Not businesses nor employees.
Workers wouldn’t have to prove offenses were “serious” and “pervasive,” as required under federal law. Instead, any action (even a single one by someone who can’t be punished or supervised) could spark a lawsuit.
And the definition of a hostile work environment is so broad as to be meaningless: “anything that undermines a person’s sense of well-being.” What if employees (or contractors) decide that normal work hours interfere with their sense of well-being? Or that being required to abide by the terms of their contract is somehow harmful? Business owners could find themselves in court — not working with the state’s Civil Rights Division — to defend everything from job descriptions to work hours.
Again, there’s no excuse for bad behavior from bosses or managers. There’s no defense for discrimination in hiring practices or for harassing or demeaning workers. Workers are vital to businesses — and every worker should be treated with respect, equal pay and the right to address offenses.
But methods in SB-176 aren’t pro-employee. They’re pro-litigation. This is a dream come true for tort attorneys. The rest of us would only pay.