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‘Just Cause’ Measure on Colorado November Ballot

A proposed measure that would amend the Colorado Constitution to bar employers from firing or suspending employees without just cause was certified for the November 2008 ballot by the Colorado secretary of state on August 22. The “Just Cause Initiative,” which will appear on the November ballot as Amendment 55, gathered more than 130,000 signatures to be placed on the ballot. State law required only 76,047 certified signatures to make the ballot.

If Amendment 55 passes in November, covered employers would be required to provide an employee with written documentation showing that his termination or suspension was for “just cause,” which is defined to mean specified types of employee misconduct or substandard job performance, the filing of bankruptcy by the employer, or discharge or suspension due to adverse economic circumstances affecting the employer. Companies with fewer than 20 employees, governmental entities, and nonprofit organizations with fewer than 1,000 workers would be exempt from the just-cause requirement. Employees who are subject to collective bargaining agreements that require just cause for discharge or suspension also wouldn’t be protected by the measure.

Amendment 55 would allow employees who believe they were fired without just cause to file a lawsuit in state district court for reinstatement, back wages, and/or damages. If such a lawsuit is filed, the court may award attorneys’ fees to the prevailing party.

Protect Colorado’s Future, a union-backed group that is sponsoring Amendment 55, claims that 70 percent of Coloradans support the measure’s concept. If passed, Colorado would be only one of two states (Montana being the other) that requires just cause to terminate an employee. In all other states, employees are employed at-will — that is, they may be fired for any reason or no reason at all.

The Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry, the Colorado Restaurant Association, and other business trade groups call Amendment 55 an economy-killer that would strip employers of their long-standing ability to terminate employees as they see fit except under narrow circumstances. These business groups have joined together to form Coloradans for Responsible Reform in order defeat Amendment 55 and three other union-backed measures that are either already on the November ballot or still trying to get there. The other measures are Amendment 53, which would hold executives criminally liable under state law for corporate wrongdoing, Initiative 92, which would require employers with 20 or more employees to provide health insurance, and Initiative 93, which would allow employees to sue in court, as well as in the workers’ compensation system, if the employee is injured on the job because of an unsafe or unhealthy workplace.

We will provide more on Amendment 55 in the next issue of Colorado Employment Law Letter.