Polis Announces Paid Family Leave Program Covering State Employees

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
Gov. Jared Polis holds a press conference at the Governor’s Mansion in Capitol Hill, Nov. 17, 2020.

Beginning Jan. 1, state employees will receive two weeks of paid family and medical leave under a new rule from the Colorado Department of Personnel and Administration. Gov. Jared Polis notified state employees of the benefit in a letter sent on Dec. 21. The rule applies to people who have worked for the state for a minimum of 12 months.

“The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the need for this type of program as many state employees are juggling the challenges of providing services to Coloradans, dealing with a life-altering event, and taking care of themselves and their families,” Polis wrote.

He noted that, in November, Colorado voters approved a statewide paid family and medical leave program that would require employers to provide 12 weeks of paid time off for childbirth and family emergencies. It would apply to both the public and private sectors, but the program doesn’t go into effect until 2024. Polis stated that he wanted to start doing something for state workers sooner.

“We know that 80 hours is not enough, it's far from that. You deserve more than that, but this is just the beginning and it provides hope for the future.”

This is the third time Polis has tried to provide paid leave for state employees. His previous attempts proposed 8 weeks of leave and were unanimously rejected by the state legislature’s Democratic-controlled Joint Budget Committee. The budget committee had concerns about the policy and the governor’s legal authority to enact it through the budgeting process, rather than through the legislative branch.

But this time, Polis isn’t asking for the budget committee’s approval. His office says the Group Benefits Plan Reserve Fund will finance the roughly $2.5 million it will take to backfill critical positions for state workers who take time to care for loved ones. The fund normally pays for health, life and dental benefits for state workers, but there is money left over because fewer people are using those benefits during the pandemic.

At  least one budget committee member is on board with how the state will enact its new proposal. Democratic Sen. Dominick Moreno chairs the Joint Budget Committee and said in a statement that he is “excited the state is able to provide this important benefit to our hardworking state employees.” Moreno also said he appreciates that the Governor’s office and state employee union consulted with the budget committee on extending the benefit to state workers. 

The state has the money to fund the program for one year, but then it may require legislative approval. The Department of Personnel and Administration will ask the Colorado Attorney General for legal analysis, but it believes the State Personnel Director has the authority to enact the paid leave program.

This is a developing story and will be updated.