Colorado state law protects employees who report information regarding the illegal or inappropriate conduct of their employers from retaliation. These informants are called “whistleblowers.” Colorado law contains provisions that specifically protect whistleblowers in both public and private employment:

  • Public Employees: Employees of the state of Colorado are protected from any disciplinary action by their employer that is taken in retaliation for disclosing information regarding any illegal policies or actions to certain government representatives.
    • To claim the protection, an employee must file a written complaint within 30 days of a retaliatory incident with the state personnel board.
    • If the employee has been fired and proves that their firing was retaliation for protected whistleblowing, they may recover back pay, be reinstated to the position from which they were fired and seek additional remedies as well.
    • If the employee files a complaint with the state personnel board and receives satisfactory remedies, then that would be the end of the matter. Civil lawsuits in a court of law would be available only if a complaint with the state personnel board were denied.
  • Private Employees: Employees of private employers are also protected from retaliatory actions by their employers for whistleblowing:
    • A private employer may not take disciplinary action against an employee in retaliation for disclosures of information made by the employee about illegal policies or actions.
    • However, an employee must make an effort to provide the information directly to a supervisor or other authority within the employer organization before disclosing the information to an outside source.
    • The employee’s remedy for retaliatory conduct on the part of their employer is to bring a civil lawsuit and be awarded damages or other relief. Of course, a worker who distributes false or fraudulent information about an employer is not offered protection by the law.

Note that within both government and private workplaces, an informant is not protected by these statutes if they disclose information that they know to be false or fraudulent. Of course, a worker who distributes false or fraudulent information about an employer is not offered protection by the law.

Are There Any Other Laws Protecting Whistleblowers in Colorado?

In 2007, Colorado enacted a law that provides whistleblower protection for workers employed in the healthcare profession. The law allows workers in the healthcare field to report concerns about patient safety without fear of retaliation by their employer. The law was passed in order to address the lack of reporting of such concerns that was plaguing the healthcare industry. Health care employees are now encouraged to report any conduct that may have an adverse impact on the current status of health care standards in Colorado. Of course, the law does not grant immunity to employees for their own acts of negligence.

People who have specific knowledge from personal experience of fraud being perpetrated against the Medicaid system may file a whistleblower lawsuit against the healthcare provider under Colorado’s Medicaid False Claims Act. These lawsuits are filed in the name of the State and are “under seal.” This means they are filed in secret and are not served or provided to the entity being sued at least initially. A person who succeeds with such a lawsuit can be awarded a percentage of the recovery won by the State if certain conditions are met.

The state first investigates the allegations in the whistleblower suit before it provides a copy to the healthcare provider. It then decides whether or not to intervene in the case. If the state does decide to intervene, attorneys for the State handle the case. The whistleblower still participates and assists, but the state absorbs the cost of providing professional legal representation.

If the State does not intervene, the whistleblower is left to pursue the case on their own. Only when the case is “unsealed” by court order can the whistleblower reveal the fact that it has been filed or discuss the case publicly.

Case law protects employees who are whistleblowers also in Colorado through its cause of action for wrongful termination. Generally, in Colorado, an employee hired for an indefinite amount of time is considered to be an at-will employee. This means that their employment may be terminated without notice for any reason or even without justification. However, Colorado law does provide some protection for employees if their employment is terminated in retaliation for whistleblower activity.

The primary protection for private employee-whistleblowers in Colorado is provided by the public policy exception to the at-will employment doctrine. Essentially, a claim for wrongful discharge based on a violation of a public policy may be brought when the termination of an employee goes against or violates a clear statement of public policy.

In order to determine whether a specific instance of termination of employment violated public policy, the court considers statutes, regulations, constitutional provisions, and codes of ethics, The court is looking to decide whether a given practice has been generally endorsed or is prohibited.

Examples of reasons for termination that courts have found to be violations of public policy and, therefore, exceptions to at-will employment are as follows:

  • Refusing to perform an illegal act such as covering up engineering failure;
  • Performing a public duty, and exercising an important job-related right or privilege, such as seeking damages for an on-the-job injury as allowed by law;
  • The employee either internally or externally blows the whistle on conduct by their employer that is illegal, fraudulent, or violates clear public policy.

Another distinct type of wrongful discharge in violation of public policy lawsuit involves suits by professionals who must have a license to practice their profession. Often the license comes with a legal obligation to observe a prescribed set of professional ethics.

Thus, in a recent case involving a Colorado licensed real estate agent, a court decided that the employment of a real estate agent could not be terminated because the agent complied with professional ethics obligations and blew the whistle on their employer’s actions, actions that violated Colorado real estate statutes.

Colorado law also provides protection for the private employees of government contractors, who are licensed medical care workers, who are licensed physicians, or, as mentioned above, who blow the whistle on Medicaid fraud. There are several other statutes that provide whistleblower protection for Colorado employees in certain industries and who report certain conduct.

Do I Need to Obtain a Lawyer for My Whistleblower Claim?

It is a good idea to contact an experienced wrongful termination lawyer in Colorado if you believe that you have a whistleblower claim in Colorado. A lawyer can help protect your claim by making sure that you follow the procedures established in state statutes and file claims with the correct agency.

Colorado allows employees to file suits against their employers seeking remedies for retaliatory termination of their employment. Therefore, any of the reports that you make as a whistleblower might end up being used in a court of law. It is important for you to make comprehensive and detailed written accounts while the facts of the incidents are still fresh in your mind. Also, you should keep receipts and any other pertinent documents. Your lawyer will need this information if you end up pursuing a lawsuit in a court of law.