The state of Colorado is starting to name companies that steal wages from their employees, ending decades of businesses being able to shield their identities under claims of trade secret protections.
Nearly 130 employers have been ordered to pay employees $547,780.90 in back pay and penalties since April 13. The companies were also ordered to pay the state another $170,750 in fines in connection with wage-law violations, according to the data shared Monday by the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.
The new transparency around wage theft violations comes after a Rocky Mountain PBS investigation into Colorado’s wage-theft secrecy in 2015 highlighting how “you can’t know if your favorite bar stiffs its servers” or “if your future employer cheats its workers” because a state law from 1915 allowed companies to keep their wage law violations from the public by claiming the information contained “trade secrets.”
In 2016, state Rep. Jessie Danielson of Wheat Ridge and former state Sen. Jessie Ulibarri of Commerce City, both Democrats, attempted to change the law. They were unsuccessful.
This spring, Danielson tried again. She partnered with state Sen. John Cooke, a Greeley Republican, and ultimately got through the Wage Theft Transparency Act.
The act, signed into law by Gov. John Hickenlooper in April, clarifies that wage law violations are not confidential and should be released to the public. The state still has the ability to withhold some information like an employer’s exact vacation policy if the company can successfully show why the info is a trade secret and shouldn’t be released to the public.
“These companies, in theory, without this new law could continually commit wage theft and continually cheat and steal from their employees,” Danielson said. “This is is the kind of legislation that will protect workers all across the state.”
Danielson said making the information about wage law violations public allows local governments and the state to award government contracts to businesses playing by the rules. It also gives workers a chance to consider an employer’s track record before taking a job and consumers the ability to make informed decisions when shopping at businesses.
“We as the public, we want to do business with good companies,” she said.
The Wage Theft Transparency Act went into effect April 13 and only applies to companies that have been ordered to pay fines and back pay on or after that date, according to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. On April 19, the state denied Denverite’s request for a list of companies that committed wage theft violations from 2011 through March 2017.
Based on the data made available Monday, the company ordered to pay the most to employees and the state under the Wage Protection Act of 2014 was Brown’s Compounding Center Inc. The Parker-based large compounding pharmacy closed after its owner was accused of selling an unapproved drug. Five cases from 2016 ended with Brown’s owing workers and the state $55,596.72.
Many claims filed by workers do not result in the state ordering companies to pay money. Last year, 2,868 — 72.4 percent — of the 3,961 complaints were dismissed. Others might have been dismissed in 2017, said Alexandra Hall, chief economist for the state.
The employers that are ordered to pay do not necessarily comply and could end up appealing the state’s decision in court, Hall said. “There’s always going to be the chance an employer found in violation by us may find another outcome in court.”
The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment hopes to start posting the names of companies that violated state wage laws on its website beginning this week, said Cher Roybal Haavind, director of government, policy and public relations for the CDLE.
“We were prescribed in law to make this information transparent, but the how was up to us,” Roybal Haavind said. “We hope making this spreadsheet available meets the spirit of the law and quite frankly has never been available to the public in Colorado.”
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