Q: Several of my employment documents say that I am an “at will” employee. Does this mean that I have no legal rights if I am fired?

Not necessarily. Like most states, employees in Colorado are presumed to be “at will,” meaning that both the employer and the employee can terminate the employment relationship at any time for any cause or no cause, except for an illegal reason. However, there are several exceptions to this presumption which can provide you with legal protection in the event that you are terminated. The first exception, commonly referred to as the “contract exception,” allows employees to pursue claims if the employer is not truly an at will employer. For example, does your employer have mandatory progressive discipline policies? If so, then you may not truly be an at will employee. The second exception applies to terminations which violate public policy. These situations can arise when your employer fires you for refusing to engage in illegal conduct, or when you are terminated for exercising your rights as an employee (such as serving on a jury or filing a worker’s compensation claim). Colorado also prohibits employers from terminating employees who engage in legal off-duty conduct, with some limited exceptions. Finally, the largest exception to the employment at will doctrine is state and federal anti-discrimination statutes. These include laws which prohibit discrimination based on such protected characteristics as race, color, national origin, gender, pregnancy, age, disability status or sexual orientation. These laws also protect you from being retaliated against for opposing illegal discrimination or for participating in a discrimination investigation.

Q: I believe my employer has discriminated against me. How long do I have to file a charge or initiate a lawsuit?

These deadlines vary widely depending on the size of the employer, the type of claim involved, and/or whether the employer is a public or private entity. Depending on those facts, you may have anywhere from 30 days to 4 years to file a formal charge of discrimination with a federal or state agency or initiate a lawsuit. You should seek legal advice as soon as possible if you believe you have been treated unfairly so that you do not risk missing a critical deadline.

Q: I am concerned that I am being paid less than my coworkers. Do I have a right to ask my employer what other employees are paid?

It is currently illegal under the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act for an employer to terminate, discipline, or otherwise take adverse action against employees for asking about, disclosing, comparing, or otherwise discussing their wages. Furthermore, under Colorado’s Equal Pay for Equal Work Act, which goes into effect on January 1, 2021, an employee may communicate with other employees or with his/her employer regarding other employees’ compensation, without fear of retribution. The Act also requires employers to post the pay range for each job posting and make promotional opportunities known to every employee. The Act expands many of the rights accorded to employees under the Federal Equal Pay Act of 1963, and makes clear that employers may not pay someone less than an individual of a different sex for substantially similar work.

Q: If I quit a job, can I still apply for unemployment insurance benefits?

To qualify for unemployment insurance benefits in Colorado, you must have lost your job through no fault of your own and be currently available to work. There are certainly situations where employees who resigned will be found not to have been at fault for their job losses, including, among other things, when an employer: subjects employees to harassment or other unsatisfactory working conditions, changes employees’ working conditions to be less favorable with respect to pay or other terms and conditions of employment, or directs employees to take an action that violates a law or ordinance. You can learn more about how to apply for unemployment benefits from the Colorado Department of Labor & Employment’s website here.

Q: I have a non-competition provision in my employment agreement. Can my employer enforce it?

In Colorado, non-competes are generally disfavored. However, there are certain types of employment positions where non-competes may be enforced. Even in those areas, non-competes must be reasonable in terms of geographic location and duration. Consult an attorney to determine the enforceability of your non-compete.