Workplace fairness bill headed for House
Senate Bill 72, which would ensure that all Coloradans have protection against workplace discrimination, passed the Senate on a party-line vote today. Elena Fairley, a public policy fellow at the Bell, presented an Opportunity Note to senators and wrote the following summary of the issue.
Workplace discrimination is against the law. But in Colorado, not all people have access to legal recourse when the law is broken.
Gaps in the law mean that two classes of Coloradans who successfully file discrimination claims – those based on sexual orientation and workers in businesses with 15 or fewer employees – can't recover remedies such as court and attorney fees. Without these remedies, it can be nearly impossible to bring a case to court, often leaving victims without protection.
The Job Protection and Civil Rights Enforcement Act of 2011 (Senate Bill 72) would fill the gaps by changing state law to allow victims of these classes to be eligible for meaningful remedies – bringing state law in line with federal law.
Forty-three other states have updated their anti-discrimination laws to provide meaningful remedies for successful workplace discrimination cases. It's time for Colorado to do the same.
These gaps in the law compromise not only our rights but also the health and vitality of our workplaces.
Senate Bill 72 expands protection to all people regardless of business size or sexual orientation. This would enable more victims of discrimination and harassment in the workplace to seek redress through the court system, which would protect workers from unfair discriminatory practices.
The bill also creates a working group that will provide employers with information, resources and trainings in an effort to prevent occurrences of discrimination and harassment at the workplace.
Current Colorado laws provide limited incentive for employers to prevent or redress existing discrimination. This goes beyond a human rights issue – it is simply bad business.
A wide body of evidence suggests that discrimination contributes to a toxic work environment where team dynamics are undermined and morale and productivity suffer.(1)
Further, the effects of discrimination tend to ripple through organizations, damaging the health and productivity of not only the victim but co-workers as well. A study published in the Academy of Management Journal found a strong correlation between sexual harassment and decreased team performance.(2)
Workplace discrimination also hampers productivity by contributing to absenteeism. Often, the overwhelming stress of discrimination causes employees to avoid going to work. This costs U.S. employers hundreds of millions of dollars every year in lost productivity.(3)
Even worse, losing and replacing workers who leave their jobs because of unfairness and discrimination costs employers roughly $64 billion a year nationwide.(4)
On the flip side, a company stands to gain by taking a no-nonsense approach to discrimination. A 2005 Gallup poll found that employees who believe their organization would take appropriate action if discrimination occurs tend to experience very high job satisfaction and enjoy a positive work environment.(5)
The Job Protection and Civil Rights Enforcement Act will empower victims and encourage employers to prevent discrimination from occurring. This could have significant, positive effects on productivity and morale, contributing to lower employee turnover, better work environments and greater productivity.
Protection of civil rights is vital to the health of our economy and communities. Senate Bill 72 deserves the support of our legislators.
(1) David C. Wilson, When Equal Opportunity Knocks, Gallup Management Journal, 2006.
(2) Beyond the Individual Victim, Academy of Management Journal, 2005.
(3) Sexual Harassment in the Workplace, Sexual Harassment Support, 2009.
(4) Freada Kapor Klein, Giving Notice: Why the Best and Brightest are Leaving the Workplace and How You Can Help them Stay, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2008.
(5) David C. Wilson, 2006.