2021 Wages Report

2021 Wages Report

Denver Labor - Wages Report

About Denver Labor

Denver Labor Lead Team

Denver Labor Organizational Chart

Denver Labor works with both businesses and workers to resolve wage compliance issues in ways that work for everyone. We take an education-first approach to wage law compliance and enforcement. Denver Labor works to foster community relationships with businesses and labor organizations and educate our diverse community on labor issues. We audit 100% of certified payrolls and investigate 100% of wage complaints. This report serves as our required annual minimum wage report.

The Denver City Council passed a local minimum wage ordinance on Nov. 25, 2019, and the citywide minimum wage took effect on Jan. 1, 2020. In 2021, the ordinance set the hourly citywide minimum wage at $14.77 per hour.

In 2022, the ordinance requires that wage rate to increase to $15.87 per hour. Both the separate minimum wage for city contractors and the prevailing wage rate still apply as determined by law. Employers must pay the greatest applicable wage rate for any work performed in the city or on city projects.

Minimum Wage

In November 2019, the Denver City Council created Denver Revised Municipal Code Chapter 58-16, which sets the local minimum wage for Denver and prescribes the means for setting, enforcing, and complying with the new local minimum wage.

In 2021, our team of skilled minimum wage analysts increased community awareness and compliance with Denver’s minimum wage. They demonstrated leadership and innovation as they found new ways to engage some of the most vulnerable workers in our community. Denver Labor Executive Director Jeffrey Garcia and our team of analysts used our complaint-based system to investigate possible underpayments and track important data to pinpoint some of the most at-risk workers and industries.

The citywide minimum wage was $14.77 per hour, with few exceptions. Denver Labor’s goal is to protect Denver’s employers and employees and ensure everyone is paid according to the law.

Our office believes education for both employers and the public is the key to a successful citywide minimum wage ordinance. This year, we held nearly 50 live training sessions on Facebook — called “Wages Wednesday” — related to all of Denver’s wage laws, what the laws mean for employees and employers, and how they can stay in compliance. We made these virtual trainings accessible by conducting them in both English and Spanish and by making our bilingual staff available to answer questions in either language. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, we continued to hold virtual events, community meetings, and training sessions throughout the year.

We also offer several useful tools for both employers and employees on our website — including a regional address finder to help determine whether work performed was in the boundaries of the City and County of Denver, a minimum wage and tip calculator, an employer underpayment calculator, a tips tracker for the food and beverage industry, and complaint forms in English and in Spanish.

This year, our “Earned It, Deserved It” campaign reached people across the city in new ways and led to a significant increase in engagement and awareness in the community. The campaign depicted workers and their supportive employers successfully working together by following the city’s minimum wage ordinance. We used digital ads, ads at regional  bus stops, radio, television, and social platforms to reach people in their homes and communities in both English and Spanish.

The contractor minimum wage rate — which impacts city employees and contractors especially at the airport — increased on July 1, 2021, to $15 per hour and will go up again on July 1, 2022, based on the Consumer Price Index. Workers covered by the contractor minimum wage work on city projects in concessions, catering, maintenance, ramp and cargo work at the airport, hospitality, security, and other jobs on city property.

Denver wage rates timeline

This complex graphic shows the wage rates timeline in dollars per hour, split over three rows.

Row one shows the Denver Citywide Minimum wage. This wage was $14.77 per hour beginning January 1, 2021; $15.87 per hour beginning January 1, 2022; $and will be $15.87 per hour plus the Consumer Price Index in 2023.

Row two shows the Denver Contractor Minimum Wage. This wage was $15 per hour beginning July 1, 2021; $15 plus the Consumer Price Index beginning July 1, 2022, and the 2022 wage plus the Consumer Price Index beginning July 1. 2023.

Row three shows the Prevailing Wage which is determined by the Denver Office of Human Resources and is a series of wages based on job classification.

Minimum Wage Restitution Stories

Local Restaurant Pays $18,000 in Returned Wages
An underpaid employee from a local restaurant in Denver reached out to us by submitting a wage complaint. We discovered their employer had not paid the required citywide minimum wage rate in 2020 and 2021.

After working with our analysts, the restaurant reacted quickly and returned nearly $18,000 to 20 employees. Once more, this story showcases the willingness of local businesses to collaborate with our team and do what’s right for their workers.

Nearly 200 Employees Compensated, Wages Permanently Raised
Home improvement sales employees who were compensated by a mix of base pay and commission were not being paid Denver’s citywide minimum wage when their sales goals were not met. Almost $16,000 was recovered for 194 employees and all employees’ base wage rates were raised to prevent future underpayments.

National Store Cooperates to Increase Wages
A large national retailer with a store near Denver’s border mistakenly thought it was subject to the state minimum wage instead of Denver’s minimum wage. Through education and cooperation, the employer corrected the mistake, raised employees’ wages, and paid 25 employees more than $2,600 in back pay.

Janitorial Company Faces Back Pay and Fines
A janitorial company incorrectly classified its employees as independent contractors to avoid having to pay minimum wage. The company refused to work with Denver Labor to correct its wage rates and achieve compliance with the law. Our office worked with an outside collections agency to recover $4,000 in unpaid wages for 24 employees, in addition to fines.

Fast-Food Chain Raises Wages
Operators of a fast-food restaurant near Denver’s border mistakenly paid less than Denver’s minimum wage. Managers worked with our team to repay more than $7,000 in underpayments for 46 employees, and they permanently increased hourly pay.

Hair Salon Incorrectly Deducts Tips
Hair stylists in a national hair salon chain were paid the minimum wage, but their employer claimed the tip credit that applies only to the food and beverage industry. Our team recovered $16,000 for 25 employees.

Every dollar matters to Denver’s workers and every case matters to Denver Labor. Read more successful restitution stories for Denver Labor on our website.

Prevailing Wage

In 2021, Denver’s mayor prioritized bond projects and construction as part of the city’s effort to encourage economic recovery from pandemic-related shutdowns. The Auditor’s prevailing wage team works with both contractors and workers on all Denver projects to ensure compliance and payment according to the law. We have enforced prevailing wage requirements in

Denver since the 1950s. Contractors and subcontractors doing work at or in connection with the operation of any public building or doing public work on behalf of the City and County of Denver must pay their workers the prevailing wage. By revamping the city’s prevailing wage ordinance in 2016, Auditor O’Brien changed the way Denver does business on all projects and changed how work is performed on city property. Now, his growing team works to bring all parties together to make Denver a good, efficient place to work.

Prevailing wage is required on contracts of $2,000 or more for construction, improvement, repair, maintenance, demolition, or janitorial work. Through education, outreach, and investigation, our prevailing wage team works with both employers and employees. Our work helps support businesses in compliance with the law and we strive to put city funds into the hands of contractors and workers as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Wage reporting software, easy-to-use tutorial videos, and public question-and-answer sessions help streamline the process. Our analysts work with employers to ensure employees are classified correctly, and we also work with employers to guide them through the reporting process.

We can accommodate training and event requests in English and Spanish, both virtually and in person. In Denver’s increasingly competitive job market, both employers and employees win when companies offer wages at least in line with the law. Employers ensure positive customer experiences, successful business models, and stability in their workplace by paying their workers according to the law.

Prevailing Wage Restitution Stories

Here are some examples of how we worked with both employers and employees this year to recover unpaid wages in accordance with the prevailing wage ordinance:

Cooperative Contractor Returns Nearly $86,000 to Employees
A contractor performing custodial work at the Denver Zoo significantly underpaid its employees, resulting in $85,826.48 owed to 21 employees. The contractor started performing the custodial work at the Denver Zoo before the Auditor’s Office discovered that neither the contract nor the contractor had been set up in our compliance software. The contractor had not submitted certified payroll records for our review, and the underpayments were the result of the contractor paying its employees less than the custodian prevailing wage. The contractor cooperated and issued restitution checks expeditiously.

Worker Receives More Than $7,000 in Restitution
The Auditor’s Office enforces Davis-Bacon compliance on City and County of Denver/federal projects. In one recent case, an out-of-state crane contractor employing a power equipment operator for cranes on a Davis-Bacon project underpaid its employee. As a result, the employee received $7,043.41 in restitution.

Misclassified Airport Employees Receive $9,500
A contractor installing a solar-power system at Denver International Airport misclassified their employees as roofers instead of electricians, which resulted in a significant underpayment for the workers. The minimum prevailing wage rate for roofers was $16.56 per hour compared to the $52.68 per hour prevailing wage that the contractor was required to pay for electrical work, which then increased to $54.97 per hour after the project’s wage anniversary. This resulted in an underpayment of up to $38.41 per hour for the workers. After the investigation, Denver Labor analysts recovered $9,575.22 in total restitution to seven employees.

Every dollar matters to Denver’s workers and every case matters to Denver Labor. Read more successful restitution stories for Denver Labor on our website.

If you were underpaid at work, our office might have a restitution check waiting for you. Check for your name on our website.

Recovered wages by Denver Labor in 2021

This graph shows Denver’s unpaid wages recovered by the labor division of the Denver Auditor’s Office by year. In 2013, $101,905 were recovered. In 2014, $142,977 were recovered. In 2015, $84,232 were recovered. In 2016, $701,787 were recovered. In 2017, $417,271 were recovered. In 2018, $265,243 were recovered. In 2019, $678,559 were recovered. In 2020, $1,017,363 were recovered. In 2021, Denver Labor recovered $690,298 for workers.


Minimum Wage Results




new investigations cases closed
with restitution
cases closed
with no underpayment
cases open
at end of year


Prevailing Wage Results





certified payroll
audit rate
payrolls audited employees on
audited payrolls
project payroll
value ($)


Auditor’s Letter

Denver Auditor Timothy M. O'Brien

My office serves as a check and balance for Denver’s government on behalf of the community we serve. In 2021, we took on the challenges posed by the pandemic and recovery work, while maintaining our high standards of professionalism and service.

City leaders strive to equitably support the recovery of residents, businesses, and everyone who cares about Denver. Our audit work can help them achieve efficiency, effectiveness, accountability, and transparency. Our wage teams can also help workers and employers build a stronger economy that includes everyone.

Equity is a planning consideration in every audit we do. One of our first steps in the audit process is to consider risk for inequity in the agencies, programs, and systems we examine.

In this report, you will find summaries of our audit highlights and impacts identified from our follow-up work. We also provide a detailed look at Denver Labor’s successes in working with both employees and businesses throughout the city. Read more about our exemplary staff, our office’s work on behalf of everyone who cares about the city, and how we strive for open communication with all members of our diverse community.

First, let me extend my appreciation to Mayor Michael B. Hancock, the Denver City Council, the independent Audit Committee, and members of the city’s operational management for supporting our mission throughout the year.

New in 2021, the City Council approved additional authority for the elected Auditor that allows me to use subpoenas when working with external entities for audits and wage enforcement work. This necessary tool will help ensure we have access to the records we need in a timely manner and at a lower cost to the taxpayer. I am pleased to report we did not have cause to use this new authority in 2021. We are grateful for our community partners who work cooperatively through our regular processes to find satisfactory resolutions for the best benefit of the people we serve.

In the past year, my audit teams examined some of the city’s most used, necessary, and beloved programs to see what was working and what could be improved. We continued to see a trend of inadequate oversight of third-party contracts and construction projects.

I was pleased to find the city did a good job setting up safeguards and plans for spending the first round of federal coronavirus relief dollars. The federal government sent hundreds of millions of dollars to the City and County of Denver, and I identified it as a high priority to audit right away to ensure the city was not only managing that money well but was also ready for the next round and future recovery efforts. The initial coronavirus relief funds were used for food assistance, public health efforts, economic support, and individual support.

The city was not as well prepared to manage new tax revenue to support our parks. My team examined how Denver used a new portion of sales and use tax approved to support park maintenance and the purchase of new parks. We found the city is buying new land, which requires more care, while leaving existing parks below adequate standards for maintenance. Denver’s parks and recreation staff were severely impacted by pandemic budget cuts and furloughs, leaving one of the most widely popular public resources without the tools it needs for success.

We saw the impacts of the pandemic on city agencies in several audits. Staff turnover, challenges in workforce hiring, budget cuts, and changes in the workplace caused many concerns for city management.

Meanwhile, Denver Labor’s goal to protect Denver’s employers and employees and ensure everyone is paid according to the law is even more important as our economy starts to recover from the shutdowns and restrictions of the pandemic.

Our team of analysts investigate 100% of wage complaints. In the first two years of citywide minimum wage enforcement, we used a complaint-based system to recover unpaid wages and to track data about industry compliance and community needs. This helped prepare us for a data-driven, proactive enforcement method in 2022.

Denver Labor is looking deeper and analyzing more details in payrolls and invoices than ever before to ensure thousands of workers across the city receive the money they are owed. Through outreach, education, and investigation, our team works with both employers and employees. Our wage team helps keep business working and city funds going out the door to contractors and workers as quickly and efficiently as possible.

In 2021, we were honored to receive the top auditing award for local governments of our size in the U.S. and Canada. The Association of Local Government Auditors recognized our team with an Exemplary Knighton Award for their work on the 2020 audit of the Neighborhood Sidewalk Repair Program — an audit still impacting our community today. Awards like this let the public know they can trust the work we do on their behalf.

Our work is performed on behalf of everyone who cares about the city, including its residents, workers, and decision-makers. Our mission is to deliver independent, transparent, and professional oversight to safeguard the public’s investment in the City and County of Denver.

Our function as an independent agency serves as a tool for good government in the city. Your input matters to us — and to other city leaders. By continuing to support our work and elevate the issues we cover, you help ensure Denver’s leaders take meaningful action.

Follow us on social media, sign up for our monthly email newsletter, or reach out to us directly by emailing auditor@denvergov.org to share your thoughts, concerns, or questions. Read this Annual Report in Spanish here.


Auditor's Signature

Denver Auditor Timothy M. O’Brien, CPA

Office Accomplishments

As an accomplished Certified Public Accountant with more than 40 years of auditing experience, Auditor O’Brien values the professional development and growth of his entire staff. Audit team members met high standards again this year through continued professional learning and achievements, industry conferences, staff presentations, involvement in professional organizations, and community contributions.

Professional Accomplishments

Our teams use the highest standards on every audit assignment and wage investigation. In 2021, we successfully adjusted to a hybrid work environment in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and refocused our priorities to support the city’s recovery efforts. Our monthly Audit Committee met virtually throughout the year and we did both in-person and virtual trainings for employers and community groups throughout the city.

In 2021, we also took action to encourage diversity, equity, and inclusion in all divisions of the office. Our emphasis on equity is a planning consideration in every audit we do. One of our first planning steps in the audit process is to consider risk for inequity in the agencies, programs, and systems we examine. We held listening sessions with our staff this year to talk about equity in the workplaces and in our community. As a result of those listening sessions, we created an inclusive language guide to help ensure the words we choose in our writing are representative and inclusive of our entire community.

Together, we served the people of Denver through thoughtful auditing, investigations, and hard work, even in the face of adversity caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Auditor O’Brien is a certified public accountant with more than 40 years of auditing experience. He recognizes the importance of professional development, of continuous learning throughout a career, and of serving the community in the office and beyond. Auditor’s Office team members met high standards again this year through continued professional learning and achievements, industry conferences, staff presentations, involvement in professional organizations, and community contributions.

Denver Labor Accomplishments

Auditor O’Brien, Denver Labor Executive Director Jeffrey Garcia, and the labor team had a year of growth and significant impact in 2021.

The Denver Labor team continues to build relationships in the community to encourage employers to pay employees according to the law. Members of the team stepped up to provide weekly trainings in both English and Spanish, allowing for an inclusive and accessible dialogue about the city’s processes.

This year, Denver Labor took in more minimum wage complaints than ever and investigated 100% of cases. We worked cooperatively with employers to find resolutions to wages not paid in accordance with the law.

Our analysts audited 100% of certified payrolls for prevailing wage. Read more about the excellent work this team accomplished in our Denver Labor Wages Report section.

Outstanding Staff

Our staff comprises many talented, well-educated, and hard-working people. This year, our team worked to improve their work, themselves, our office, and our industry. Deputy Auditor Valerie Walling served as a member of the Jefferson County Audit Committee and on The Institute of Internal Auditors’ Denver board.

Audit Manager Kharis Eppstein completed her studies this year to become a Certified Internal Auditor. Auditor O’Brien encourages all staff to continue their education and obtain professional certifications to show the high level of professionalism and qualification in our work. Eppstein also served her community this year by becoming the elected board president for the Alpine Rescue Team.

Our Safety Committee helped keep members of our office safe and healthy this year with the leadership and support of committee members Kharis Eppstein, Edyie Thompson, Rafael Gongón, Vilma Balnyte, Darrell Finke, Nick Jimroglou, Tyson Faussone, and Daniel Summers.

Our New Employee Onboarding Committee worked this year to welcome new employees into a hybrid virtual work environment. Committee members included Edyie Thompson, Emily Owens Gerber, Kharis Eppstein, Valerie Walling, Tayler Overschmidt, Katja Freeman, John Danilenko-Dixon, Cyndi Lubrano, Kristin McCormack, Nick Jimroglou, Dawn Wiseman, and Tammy Phillips.

Our Events Committee kept our office connected even from home by organizing virtual gathering opportunities. Finding ways to maintain positive relationships and a strong team was more important than ever this year, since our team couldn’t stay in touch in person. Thanks to committee members Rafael Gongón, Cyndi Lubrano, Anna Hansen, Cody Schulte, John Danilenko-Dixon, Sara del Valle Ruiz, Kristin McCormack, Megan O’Brien, Brandon Stolba, and Shaun Wysong for your fun ideas and organization.

Learn more about staff here

 Auditor Tim O'Brien headshot

Denver Auditor

Denver Auditor´s Office

201 W. Colfax Ave. #705 Denver, CO 80202
Call: 720-913-5000
Follow us on Facebook     Connect with us on Twitter
Read our social media policy

Auditors Office Logos for Footer