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Protecting Whistleblowers: Colorado’s Comprehensive Approach

Whistleblower Rights in Colorado

Whistleblowing is the act of reporting illegal or unethical activities by an employer or an individual in a position of power. Whistleblowers are essential to a transparent society and ensure accountability in both the private and public sectors.

In Colorado, there are several protections and laws in place for whistleblowers, including common-law protections, statutory protections, whistleblower hotlines, and retaliation claim penalties. We’ll discuss each of these in more detail below.

Common-Law Protections

Common-law protections in Colorado establish that employees cannot be discharged for actions that violate the state’s public policy. Firing, demoting, or retaliating against an employee for reporting illegal activities or refusing to perform illegal acts is not allowed.

If an employee faces retaliation, they can file a lawsuit for wrongful termination.

Statutory Protections

Colorado provides statutory protections for both state employees and private sector employees. For state employees, the minimum wage law explicitly protects whistleblowers.

Private sector employees are also protected by law, with Colorado’s whistleblower statute prohibiting adverse employment actions against employees who report violations of laws, such as environmental regulations. The

Public Health Emergency Whistleblower (PHEW) Law provides further protection for employees who report public health emergencies.

This law requires employees to report health and safety violations and provides protection against retaliation for doing so. The Healthy Families and Workplaces Act requires employers to provide paid sick leave and also protects whistleblowers who report violations of the law.

Whistleblower Hotlines

Colorado has a complaint hotline for employees who believe their employer is violating state minimum wage and overtime laws. The Colorado Department of Labor & Employment and the Division of Labor also have a hotline for reporting suspected labor violations.

Complaints may be filed both anonymously and in writing.

Retaliation Claims and Violation Penalties

If an employee faces retaliation or discrimination in response to whistleblowing, they may file a lawsuit for damages. The court may award equitable relief, including reinstatement, payment of lost wages, and other damages resulting from the discrimination.

The government may also impose penalties for violations of law, including fines, imprisonment, or revocation of licenses or permits.


Whistleblowers play an essential role in ensuring accountability and transparency in both the public and private sectors. In Colorado, there are several protections in place to protect whistleblowers, including common-law protections, statutory protections, whistleblower hotlines, and retaliation claim penalties.

If you’re aware of illegal or unethical activities in your workplace, don’t hesitate to report them and take advantage of the protections that Colorado provides.

Statutory Protections for Whistleblowers in Colorado

Colorado has specific legal protections in place for whistleblowers, both in the public and private sectors. Whether it’s reporting a Wage and Hour Division violation or alerting your employer to unsafe working conditions during a pandemic, whistleblowers have legal protections that safeguard their rights and jobs.

State Employees

If you’re a state employee, you’re protected by Colorado law. It’s illegal for your supervisor or appointing authority to take disciplinary action against you for disclosing violations of policies or laws, or for reporting unethical or illegal activities.

Private Sector Employees

Private sector employees are also protected by Colorado’s whistleblower statute. It’s illegal for your supervisor of a private enterprise to retaliate against you for disclosing unlawful actions by the company.

If you find yourself in this situation, you may face negative consequences, including firing or discrimination, but you have legal protections in Colorado.

Minimum Wage

Under Colorado’s minimum wage laws, it’s illegal for an employer to discharge or discriminate against an employee who files a complaint concerning unpaid wages. Employers are also prohibited from retaliating against employees who institute a proceeding, testify, or otherwise oppose a violation of Colorado’s wage laws.


The protection for wages in Colorado extends to employees who are owed overtime pay. If your employer refuses to pay overtime wages, it’s illegal for them to discharge or discriminate against you, or take any other retaliatory action.

Public Health Emergency Whistleblower (PHEW) Law

The PHEW law was designed to offer additional protections for workers during public health emergencies. Employees who report health and safety violations are protected against retaliation and discrimination.

This means that it’s illegal for an employer to take adverse action, such as firing, demoting, or otherwise punishing a worker for raising concerns about workplace health and safety practices, wearing personal protective equipment, or opposing unlawful practices. If you have experienced retaliation or discrimination for exercising your legal rights under the PHEW law, you can file a charge with the Colorado Division of Labor Standards and Statistics.

You have 180 days to do so, and the state will process your complaint and, where appropriate, schedule a hearing.

Healthy Families and Workplaces Act (HFWA)

The HFWA was enacted to provide paid sick leave to Colorado employees and if they miss work for a qualified sick leave reason, including COVID-19. Under this law, employers are required to provide up to 48 hours of paid sick leave per year, which can be taken for a range of reasons, including if you or a family member is sick and needs care.

You are also protected from retaliation if you exercise your right to take sick leave. If you’re retaliated against for taking sick leave or asserting your rights under this law, you have the right to file a complaint with the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.

Whistleblower Hotlines in Colorado

The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment and Division of Labor have hotlines for whistleblowers to report suspected labor violations. The hotlines are a free and easy way to file a complaint anonymously or in writing.

Both organizations take complaints seriously and will investigate the matter and, where necessary, take legal action against the employer. If you believe that your employer has violated Colorado law and you want to report it, calling the hotline is an appropriate action.

How to File a Complaint

To file a complaint through the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment or the Division of Labor, you can call the complaint hotline if you suspect a problem with illegal wages, labor practices, or unsafe working conditions. Both agencies have online forms where you can file a complaint.

The agency will then investigate and take appropriate action where necessary. If you prefer to file a complaint anonymously, you have that option, and the agencies take confidentiality seriously.

In conclusion, whistleblowers are an essential part of ensuring accountability and transparency. This is why Colorado has several protections for whistleblowers in place.

If you suspect that your employer is up to something illegal or unethical, don’t hesitate to speak up. You have rights, and there are laws in place that offer you protection.

Call a whistleblower hotline or file a complaint with the appropriate agency. Remember, you’re not alone – there are people who can help you.

Retaliation Claims and Violation Penalties in Colorado

Despite Colorados legal protections for whistleblowers, some employers may still engage in retaliatory behavior against those who speak up. If this happens, whistleblowers may take legal action to seek both punitive damages and relief.

Here are some important considerations related to retaliation claims and violation penalties in Colorado.


In Colorado, the statute of limitations for filing a retaliation claim is 3 years, which means that if an employee is retaliated against, they have 3 years from the date of retaliation to file a lawsuit. In some cases, this time period may be extended, such as when an employer has concealed their retaliatory actions.

Punitive Damages

Punitive damages may be awarded in Colorado to punish a defendant and to deter similar future offending. These damages are typically awarded in cases where the defendants actions were willful, wanton, or malicious.

The amount of punitive damages awarded is determined by the court and could range from hundreds to thousands of dollars. Court Costs, Back Pay, Front Pay, and Unpaid Balance

If the whistleblower prevails, they may be entitled to several forms of relief.

This includes reimbursement for court costs and attorney fees, back pay, front pay, and unpaid balances owed to the whistleblower. Back pay refers to the wages that would have been earned but for retaliatory action taken by the employer.

Front pay, on the other hand, refers to the amount the employee would have earned in the future but for the retaliatory action. Unpaid balances may include bonuses, commissions, or other compensation that the employee would have received but for the retaliation.

Compensatory and

Punitive Damages

In some cases where a whistleblower has been subjected to harassment, discrimination, or other forms of retaliation, they may also be entitled to compensatory damages. Compensatory damages are awarded to compensate the employee for losses they have suffered as a result of the retaliation, such as emotional distress, anxiety, and embarrassment.

Misdemeanor and Felony Fines and Imprisonment

Employers can face serious reprisals in Colorado for violating whistleblower laws. Violating state or federal whistleblower laws is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $5,000.

If the employer knowingly violated employee rights with the intent to retaliate, they could face a felony charge punishable by a fine of up to $100,000 and/or imprisonment. In addition, they would be liable for lost pay, compensatory damages, reinstatement, and other relief as the court deems appropriate.


Reinstatement is a form of relief in which the employer must restore the employee to their original position with all the same benefits and privileges. However, if the workplace is so toxic that it would be unreasonable to expect the whistleblower to return, the court may award front-pay instead.

In conclusion, Colorado law explicitly protects whistleblowers from retaliation by providing them with various legal protections. If an employer retaliates against a whistleblower, the whistleblower may file a lawsuit and receive several forms of relief, including punitive damages, compensation, and relief for court costs and attorney fees.

If the employer is found guilty of retaliation, it could be very costly with serious financial implications such as fines, imprisonment, lost pay, reinstatement, and other damages. It is essential for employers and employees to know these laws and make sure that their workplaces are ethically and legally responsible.

In conclusion, whistleblowers play a crucial role in upholding transparency and accountability in Colorado. With both common-law and statutory protections, whistleblowers are shielded from retaliation and have avenues for reporting illegal or unethical activities.

The availability of whistleblower hotlines further encourages reporting. Employers who engage in retaliatory behavior face penalties, including fines, imprisonment, and the responsibility to provide various forms of relief.

It is imperative for individuals to know their rights and for employers to foster a culture that supports ethical behavior and safeguards whistleblowers. By protecting whistleblowers, we can create a society that values integrity and holds wrongdoers accountable.

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