Interpretation of 100-year-old law keeps state labor investigations secret

From Rocky Mountain PBS I-NEWS:  You can’t know if your favorite bar stiffs its servers, according to Colorado law. You can’t know if your future employer cheats its workers. You can’t know if your competitor underbids you by skirting labor laws.

It is illegal for the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment to disclose the name of an employer who has violated wage laws, no matter how egregious or – for that matter – benign the employer’s actions are. All complaints and investigations of employers, even after they’ve been resolved, are confidential under the state’s interpretation of a 100-year-old law.

In 1915 the Colorado legislature wrote the confidentiality into the first law on workers’ compensation. The statute specifies that information employers provided “shall be for the exclusive use and information of said commission in the discharge of its official duties and shall not be open to the public.”

The law now specifies that labor authorities “may” treat information containing “trade secrets” as confidential. The state’s lawyers, however, have interpreted the law to extend blanket confidentiality to cover all information on investigations of unpaid wages.

In an interview, state labor department spokesperson Cher Haavind said the department operates under the confines of the current law to protect employer and employee confidentiality. But there have been discussions about updating the law, she said.

“All of our divisions have talked about is it time to do an overhaul in that part of the law,” Haavind said.

This secrecy protects chronic violators and the state labor department from public scrutiny, an I-News investigation using open record requests has found. It prevents business competitors, consumers, and potential job candidates from being able to independently assess how often employees are taken advantage of, by whom, and how well the state is doing its job of collecting unpaid wages and deterring unfair treatment.

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