Anti-business legislation doesn’t get more outrageous than what you’re about to hear.
If Colorado is to succeed economically and avoid becoming another cautionary tale like California, we need a regulatory environment that protects employees and employers alike. To compete for jobs, Colorado must be conducive to doing business. We must be known nationwide as a business-friendly state.
The Legislature, alas, seems to have other plans. Another anti-business, pro-lawyer bill making its way through the Legislature — along with one that encourages high-dollar discrimination suits against employers — would stack the deck heavily against employers in wage disputes.
HB1227 doesn’t even make a pretense of balance or the need for an objective judicial process. It might as well be called “The Boss is Always Guilty Act of 2013.”
By guilty, we mean in the criminal way. The bill actually puts employers at risk of class 3 felony charges if found culpable in wage disputes raised by employees.
In the real world, people make mistakes when calculating payroll. Sometimes it’s in the employee’s favor, other times in the employer’s favor. Sometimes, employers are jerks and simply try to shortchange an employee or former employer. Other times employees are jerks, trying to exploit their employers. Such instances are rare. Unfair employers don’t stay in business for long, and dishonest employees have a hard time finding work.
Generally, innocent wage disputes are resolved outside the courtroom. It is typically a matter of the aggrieved party simply explaining the discrepancy, proving the point and asking for a correction. It happens every day in a state of 5.2 million people.
HB1227 would discourage any such peaceful resolutions. It seeks to strip employers of the opportunity to prove they made offers of good-faith solutions or settlements to avoid court-ordered penalties.
It gets even worse.
Under current law, a court has the option of awarding attorney’s fees to the prevailing party. It’s an important element of law. It creates a risk for plaintiffs, thus discouraging ill-conceived nuisance suits filed primarily to antagonize an employer. The cost of litigation may come back on the plaintiff if the court determines a sinister motive for bringing a ridiculous suit.
If 1227 becomes law, courts will be required to offer an award of attorney fees but only to plaintiffs. The law would end another deterrent to frivolous lawsuits by eliminating any requirement for a complainant to make a written demand for wages before complaining to the state’s Division of Labor. In other words, the pro-lawyer bill exploits any means possible to discourage peaceful, out-of-court resolutions that ought to be the norm.
Incredibly, it goes even farther to stack the deck against employers and in favor of aggrieved or disgruntled employees and former employees. The law would ensure that an employer who prevails in a wage complaint with the Division of Labor may still be sued, for the exact same complaint, in court.
If that’s not enough, the law would prohibit an employer who prevails in a Division of Labor finding from introducing any such victory as exculpatory evidence in court. After all, what plaintiff’s lawyer wouldn’t dream of a law that forbids defendants from actually defending themselves?
The bill is the brainchild of Rep. Jonathan Singer, D-Longmont, and Sen. Jessie Ulibarri, D-Adams County. If the two prevail, they will succeed in making Colorado among our country’s most frightening places in which to do business.
They will sabotage the goal of becoming a place in which employers want to live, work, invest and create good jobs.