Colorado Supreme Court Addresses Statute of Limitations Under the Colorado Wage Act
In response to a certified question from the United States District Court for the District of Colorado, the Colorado Supreme Court has clarified that claims for unpaid wages under the Colorado Wage Act must be filed within the statute of limitations (either two or three years) and that the clock starts ticking “on the date that each set of wages first became due and payable—not on the date of separation.” See Hernandez v. Domenico Farms, Inc., 414 P.3d 700 (Colo. 2018).
The United States District Court certified the following question to be addressed by the Colorado Supreme Court:
Does the CWCA Section 109 (wage payments upon termination) permit a terminated employee to sue for wages or compensation that went unpaid at any time during the employee’s employment, even when the statute of limitations has run on the cause of action the employee could have brought for those unpaid wages under Section 103 (wage payments during employment)?
The Colorado Supreme Court analyzed the interplay of three provisions of the Colorado Wage Act to answer this question. Section 122 provides that a claim may be brought “two years after the cause of action accrues and not after that time,” except for “willful” violations,” which must be “commenced within three years.” See C.R.S. § 8-4-122. Section 109 provides that employers must pay employees all earned wages or compensation upon termination of employment. See C.R.S. § 8-4-109. Finally, Section 103 requires employers to pay current employees at regular intervals during their employment.
In Hernandez, the employees argued that the statute of limitation on their claims for unpaid overtime under Section 190 accrued “only upon the termination of the employment relationship,” even if they would have been time barred from bringing the claim under Sections 103 or 109. The Supreme Court rejected that argument, holding:
If an employee fails to pursue a claim to receive unpaid wages for more than two (or three) years after those wages are due and payable, the employee’s claim to those wages is extinguished by operation of the statute of limitations. Those wages are no longer due to the employee, and section 109 does nothing to make these extinguished claims due and payable again. The plain language of these sections shows that the General Assembly intended for claims to be brought within two or three years of when the wages became due and payable, and not after that time.
(emphasis in original).
Thus, the Court held that while terminated employees may include claims for previously earned wages under Section 109, the right to bring those claims is subject to the two/three statute of limitations, which runs from the date the wages first become due and payable. That is, the period begins to run on the payday following the conclusion of the pay period in which the wages were earned – not on the day of termination.