Unboxing Colorado’s New Paid Family and Medical Leave Program — A Review

Colorado Digital Service
4 min readApr 17, 2024

Matthew McAllister is the co-founder and Director of the Colorado Digital Service. He recently returned to work after taking paternity leave for the birth of his first child.

I was one of the first recipients of Colorado’s newest public benefit: Paid Family and Medical Leave.

The statewide program opened up to the public for the first time this January. My wife and I had welcomed our first-born daughter back in September and therefore qualified for this new program on day one. The 12 weeks of leave and partial wage coverage were game-changers for us. We felt incredibly fortunate to spend these early weeks as a family together and have this time to bond with our daughter. I’m so grateful to Colorado voters who made this program possible and incredibly impressed by the Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE) team for making it such an easy program to apply for.

When most of us think about applying to receive something from the government, “smooth” and “easy” are usually not the words that come to mind, but that’s exactly how it felt to apply for Paid Family and Medical Leave (also known as FAMLI). I should note that I’m not an unbiased reviewer of the system. As the Director of the Colorado Digital Service, I had the opportunity to work with the team at CDLE early on when we were researching how employers would engage with the system to pay into it in preparation for the launch for claimants in 2024. The program was in its early days, and the Digital Service was not involved past this particular user research sprint. So, while I had an early view into the program’s formation, all credit for executing my seamless claimant experience goes to the team CDLE built.

I’ll start with first impressions. If you’ve ever applied for TSA Precheck, Global Entry, a federal job, or received money through the Paycheck Protection Program, you’ve created a Login.gov account. The same login to other government systems also works when you sign into the FAMLI portal. Same username, same password — easy.

Once I started my application, I was immediately impressed by the lack of government jargon. Everything was very clear. I didn’t need to be an expert in family leave or the government to navigate it. This page felt like a great example of the power of plain language. I love that the state isn’t hiding what the impact of answering the question will be. It states clearly in the first question, “You must be employed at the time you start leave to receive benefits.” No one is trying to trick you. The state is respecting the user’s time by telling them in the first question that they won’t be considered eligible if they don’t meet this criteria.

A screenshot of the first page of the FAMLI claimant application. The short and clear instructions for each question in the preliminary questionnaire are depicted.

A great example of plain language in an application form

I was also really impressed by how the state handled remaining unknowns while rolling out this program. This disclaimer about federal income tax implications on my wage compensation was about as straightforward as I could think to write it. It’s easy to imagine a parallel universe where this page requires scrolling through something the length of a terms and conditions screen just to understand the tax implications of accepting this benefit program. This is incredibly clear-cut and further makes it obvious that the state is prioritizing a simple user experience and absorbing as much complexity on the program side as possible.

A screenshot of the FAMLI Tax Disclaimer page at the end of the application, which also uses plain language to explain an unknown of the program related to how federal income tax will apply to the wage replacement from FAMLI. There is a tracker at the top of the page that helps a user understand how far along they are in the application.

Another example of clear language when the alternative option of a long piece of fine print could have been the default.

And that was it!

I was done in about five minutes. I had blocked 30 minutes on my calendar to apply for FAMLI and was stunned when this was the end of the process. Furthermore, because I had uploaded images of our daughter’s birth certificate, the approval process after applying was incredibly fast.

As I prepare to wrap up my parental leave and return to work at the state, I’m excited to learn from the CDLE team that launched such a user-friendly system and apply it to other programs we work on for Coloradans. If you’re a technologist who is obsessed with making complex things easy for your neighbors to use and navigate, consider joining us. Stay in touch with the Colorado Digital Service for news and openings on our team. Meanwhile, there are many other amazing roles across state government.

An image of the author holding his infant daughter. Both are looking at the camera. The infant is wearing a teal onesie with white polka dots and has a neutral gaze. The author is wearing a short-sleeved dark tee shirt and has both of his arms wrapped around his daughter. He is smiling widely.

The author, Matthew, with his new daughter, Olivia.

Special thanks to: Daniel Chase, Naim Razzak, Lydia Waligorski, Tracy Marshall, and Cher Haavind

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Colorado Digital Service

A team of engineers, designers, product managers, and procurement specialists serving limited tours of service in government. colorado.gov/digitalservice