Workers’ Compensation Insurance in Colorado
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Colorado workers' compensation insurance

Colorado law requires that all employees have workers’ compensation insurance, whether they are part-time or full-time, with limited exceptions. This policy covers medical expenses for work-related injuries.

Who needs workers’ comp insurance in Colorado?

Workers’ comp insurance in Colorado, from Denver to Fort Collins to Aurora, is required for all employees of public or private businesses. Generally, any person who performs work or services is presumed to be an employee.

There are a few exceptions when establishing whether workers’ compensation is mandatory in Colorado for your business. A sole proprietor or any general working partner, corporate officer, or member of a limited liability company (LLC) might not be bound to carry this insurance under certain circumstances.

Exemptions for Colorado workers' compensation law

The following may qualify for workers' comp exemptions under Colorado law:

  • Some maintenance or repair work for a business when the cost is less than $2,000 per calendar year
  • Domestic work for a private homeowner if the job is fewer than 40 hours per week or fewer than five days per week
  • Commission-based real estate agents and brokers
  • Independent contractors
  • Drivers who are under lease agreements if the carrier offers the drivers workers’ compensation insurance
  • Volunteers for ski area operators
  • Providers of residential host-home services or support
  • Railroad employees who are covered under federal law

Is workers’ comp required for part-time employees? 

Part-time employees must be provided with workers’ compensation. This is true whether an employee is paid a salary or an hourly wage. However, an independent contractor could be exempt, as long as the person is correctly classified as such under Colorado law.

An independent contractor is someone who:

  • Works outside the business’s control and direction over how the services are performed
  • Is engaged in a profession, trade, occupation, or business of the service being performed

For additional information or to learn who qualifies for independent contractor status, check out the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE) Division of Workers' Compensation Employer's Guide.

Do you need workers’ compensation if you are self-employed? 

If you are self-employed, you do not need workers’ compensation, but you should still consider buying it. Sole proprietors, independent contractors, and business partners are not considered employees, so they don't fall within the state's requirements for this policy.

Given the high cost of medical care, buying workers' comp is often a smart business decision even when it's not required. It could provide coverage for lost wages and other important benefits if a work-related accident or injury occurs.

How much does workers' compensation insurance cost in Colorado?

A small business owner calculating their workers' comp insurance payments

The average cost of workers’ compensation in Colorado is $54 per month.

Your workers' comp premium is calculated based on a few factors, including:

  • Payroll
  • Location
  • Number of employees
  • Industry and risk factors
  • Coverage limits
  • Claims history

How do you buy workers' compensation insurance in Colorado?

Employers in Colorado have several options when it comes to buying workers' compensation insurance:

You can purchase workers’ comp from an authorized commercial insurance company. Insureon provides an easy online application to compare quotes from top insurance carriers and licensed agents with expertise in insurance for Colorado businesses.

Larger businesses can opt for self-insurance. Employers must have at least 300 employees or $100 million in assets to qualify for self-insurance. Public sector employers and professional associations may join a group or pool for workers’ compensation insurance through a program administered by the Division of Insurance in the Department of Regulatory Agencies.

You can buy insurance through Colorado's state fund. Colorado runs a competitive workers' compensation state fund administered by Pinnacol Assurance.

How can Colorado business owners save money on workers' comp?

To save money on workers' comp insurance, it's important to make sure you classify your employees correctly. Employees with desk jobs or other jobs with a low risk of injury cost less to insure. This also helps you avoid misclassification fines.

In some cases, small business owners can choose to buy pay-as-you-go workers' compensation. This type of workers' comp policy has a low upfront premium, and lets you make payments based on your actual payroll instead of estimated payroll. It's useful for businesses that hire seasonal help or have fluctuating numbers of employees.

Finally, a documented safety program can help lower workers' comp costs. A safer workplace means fewer accidents, which helps keep your premium low.

How does workers’ compensation work in Colorado?

Workers’ compensation insurance benefits both the employer and the employee. Its purpose is to provide employees with necessary medical treatment and wage replacement if an individual is injured on the job. Additionally, it supplies death benefits in the event of an employee fatality.

Workers' comp protects employers due to the exclusive remedy, which means that an employee who accepts workers' compensation benefits cannot sue their employer for the injury. Most policies include employer's liability insurance, which helps cover legal expenses if an employee does sue the employer over their injury.

The Division of Workers’ Compensation enforces compliance with workers’ compensation Colorado requirements, provides information to both employers and employees, assists in the resolution of related issues, and administers self-insurance programs.

Workers' compensation benefits in Colorado

In Colorado, an employee who is injured on the job or who develops an occupational disease receives workers' comp benefits that cover the entire cost of their medical treatment during recovery.

The amount a worker can receive for temporary disability and permanent partial disability benefits is limited once they've fully recovered or reached maximum medical improvement (MMI). The limit depends on the impairment rating that a doctor assigns the worker for their injury.

For example, an employee might not recover full use of their arm after a work injury. Once they've recovered as much as possible, their doctor assigns them an impairment rating that reflects the severity of the impairment. The insurance company then uses that rating to determine whether the employee will receive future benefits, and if so, how much.

What are the penalties for not having Colorado workers’ comp insurance?

The penalties for not carrying workers’ compensation insurance in Colorado could include steep fines. If a business is determined to be lacking proper coverage, the director of the Division of Workers’ Compensation may issue a cease and desist order against the business, which would require it to stop all operations until it obtains proper insurance.

Uninsured employers may have to pay fines of up to $250 for each day they did not maintain insurance coverage. If there are multiple violations, that fine could go as high as $500 per day.

If there is a workers’ compensation settlement before the penalty, the benefits would be increased by 50% if the employer failed to maintain insurance.

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Workers’ compensation death benefits in Colorado

The dependents of a person who has died as a result of injuries sustained at work can receive workers’ compensation death benefits. The State of Colorado classifies dependents as:

  • A spouse who lived with the worker at the time of the worker’s death
  • Children under 18, or under 21 if they are full-time students
  • If there is no spouse or dependent child, then parents, adult children, or grandchildren could qualify as partial dependents. In that situation, the family member must prove there was a financial dependency on the deceased worker.

For death benefits to apply, a worker must have died as a result of a work-related injury or illness. If the cause of death is unrelated, it might be possible for the family members to collect unpaid permanent disability benefits.

The amount of workers’ compensation death benefits in Colorado is determined by approximately two-thirds of the worker’s average weekly wages, up to a legal maximum that changes each year. That amount is the total awarded to all dependents combined.

A spouse receives death benefits either for life or until he or she is remarried, at which point that person’s share would be divided among remaining dependents. Children would receive benefits until age 18 (or 21 for full-time students), and partial dependents would receive benefits for a maximum of six years.

  • If a worker was under 21 at the time of death, the parents would receive a $15,000 lump sum instead of weekly benefits.
  • The workers’ compensation insurer would also pay up to $7,000 for burial expenses for a deceased worker.

Workers’ comp settlements in Colorado

An injured worker will usually be offered a workers’ compensation settlement. If accepted, the worker will receive a lump sum payment and avoid the uncertainty of a workers’ comp hearing. With a settlement, the employee also forfeits the right to additional disability benefits.

Occasionally, the insurer will agree to a limited settlement that would allow for the worker to maintain the right to future medical expenses. A structured settlement is an option that would allow the worker to receive payments as installments over a period of time, so the payments would be issued monthly or yearly.

If the worker is owed permanent disability benefits, it could be paid as a lump sum. However, if that happens, the insurance company would pay the present value of the benefits, which is discounted by 4% each year. Colorado also maintains a cap for how much a lump sum can be, and that amount changes each year.

Usually, a worker will wait to settle a workers’ compensation claim until they have reached maximum medical improvement, which means that the condition is stable and will not require additional medical treatment.

Statute of limitations for workers’ compensation claims in Colorado

An injured employee should file a workers’ compensation claim as soon as possible. The claim can only be filed for up to two years following the diagnosis of injury or illness. However, if the employee misses at least three days of work, the employer is required to file a report of injury, and the statute of limitations deadline is established.

If an employee is injured on the job, they are required to report the injury to the employer in writing within four working days. This written notice should either go to the employee’s direct supervisor or the human resources department.

If the injury is an ongoing issue (like carpal tunnel syndrome) and not the result of a specific incident, the statute of limitations begins when the employee knew or should have known that there was a medical condition caused by employment.

The dependents of a worker who died as a result of work-related illness or injury have two years to file a claim petition for death benefits.

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Updated: February 6, 2024

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