Colorado Governor Vetoes Bill Prohibiting Employers from Requiring Attendance at Meetings Involving Politics or Religion

May 30, 2024

By: Colin A. Walker

On May 17, 2024, Colorado Governor Jared Polis vetoed House Bill 24-1260, “Prohibition Against Employee Discipline.” The bill would have prohibited employers from requiring employees to attend meetings at which political or religious issues were discussed.  Particularly in the wake of court decisions like Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission by the United States Supreme Court, many employers have become more aggressive about exercising their rights to engage in political and religious speech. Some employers have engaged in such speech in the workplace, even requiring workers to attend meetings at which such issues were discussed. These issues also affect unionization. For many years, federal law has governed speech in the workplace regarding unions and unionization, allowing employers limited rights to talk to their employees about the pros and cons of unions. Unions also have the right to speak with employees about unionization. 

The bill’s opponents expressed concerns about ambiguities in the language of the bill, particularly the definitions of “political” and “religious.” Some employers were concerned that this would curtail their ability to require employees whose jobs require them to be aware of political or religious issues to do their jobs. The implications for speech on unionization was also unclear. Governor Jared Polis agreed, explaining, “bill’s definitions of ‘political matters’ and ‘religious matters’ are so broad that they are unworkable and would result in unintended consequences for employers and employees alike,” and vetoed the bill. See bill here

Employers should not regard this as a sign that they have unfettered discretion to discuss politics or religion in the workplace, or to require employee attendance at events where such issues are discussed. Political or religious speech in the workplace could result in liability for religious discrimination under federal or state law, such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the primary workplace discrimination law  For example, if an employer requires employees to attend meetings regarding a particular religion, employees of a different religion might be able to assert religious harassment claims, provided they could prove it was severe or pervasive and would be offensive to a reasonable person under the circumstance. Some states, such as Colorado, have changed their laws to make it easier for employees to assert such claims by abandoning the requirement of showing that the conduct was severe or pervasive. See May 8, 2023 post here.

While the Governor’s veto of this bill avoided strong protections for employees against having to endure political or religious speech in the workplace, employers would be well advised to express their views on these issues elsewhere. Employers who choose to discuss religion or politics in the workplace, should do so only after careful consideration and with the advice of competent employment counsel.