Virginia is finally catching up to Washington, DC, and Maryland in terms of employee protections. Earlier this month, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam signed new employment laws that will drastically increase workers’ rights in Virginia. There are several new Virginia employment laws that will drastically increase workers’ rights. Here’s an overview of how key new laws will protect employees in Virginia:
More damages for unpaid wages
House Bill 123 gives you the right to sue your employer for unpaid wages. If you win your case, the court can award you:
- Up to three times the amount of unpaid wages,
- Attorney’s fees and costs, and
House Bill 336/Senate Bill 49 expands the ability of the Virginia Commissioner of Labor and Industry to investigate employers who fail to pay their employees. If you file a claim for unpaid wages, the Commissioner has the right to investigate whether your employer also owes wages to other employees, even if no one else files a complaint.
No retaliation for complaining about unpaid wages
House Bill 337/Senate Bill 480 prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who file a complaint for unpaid wages. If you prove that your employer fired you because you sued for wage theft, you may be able to:
- Get your job back and
- Recover up to two times the amount of your lost wages.
Stronger penalties for misclassifying employees
Employers sometimes misclassify employees as independent contractors. Sometimes misclassification is an honest mistake. But other times, employers misclassify employees to avoid paying employment taxes and providing benefits. House Bill 984/Senate Bill 894 punishes employers who misclassify their employees. If you prove that your employer treated you like an independent contractor, even though you are an employee, you may be able to recover:
- Lost wages and employment benefits,
- Expenses you incurred that should have been covered by employer-provided insurance,
- Other lost compensation, and
- Reasonable attorney’s fees and legal costs.
The new law also presumes that you are an employee if you provide services for an employer. In other words, it’s the employer’s responsibility to prove that you’re an independent contractor and not an employee.
If your employer misclassified employees and failed to pay appropriate taxes, House Bill 1407/Senate Bill 744, allows the Tax Commissioner to:
- Require your employer to pay a civil penalty,
- Prohibit your employer from contracting with the Virginia government, and
- Share information about your employer’s violations with relevant Virginia agencies.
House Bill 1199/Senate Bill 662 prohibits retaliation against employees and independent contractors who:
- Report or plan to report their employer to authorities for employee misclassification, or
- Are asked or required, by an appropriate authority, to participate in an investigation, hearing, inquiry, or court action relating to employee misclassification.
If your employer retaliates against you, you may file a complaint with the Commission of Labor and Industry to get your job back and to recover your lost wages.
New rights for victims of discrimination
House Bill 827/Senate Bill 712 provides new protections to employees who are pregnant or who have medical conditions relating to childbirth. The new law gives employees comparable rights to those provided under federal law. For example, Virginia employers must now provide reasonable accommodations relating to pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions, unless the employer can prove undue hardship.
House Bill 1049 also expands protections under several Virginia anti-discrimination laws. For example, the Virginia Human Rights Act previously prohibited discrimination only on the bases of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, age, marital status, and disability. House Bill 1049 now makes it illegal to discriminate on the bases of sexual orientation and gender identity. HB 1049 also prohibits sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination in employment by various state government employers.
Better whistleblower protections
House Bill 798 vastly expands whistleblower protections for employees in Virginia. Under the new law, it’s illegal for your employer to retaliate against you for any of the following:
- Reporting violations of state or federal law or regulation to a supervisor, governmental body, or law-enforcement official
- Receiving a request from a government or law-enforcement official to participate in an investigation
- Refusing to engage in a criminal act
- Refusing an order to perform an act that violates a state or federal law or regulation (if you tell your employer you’re refusing the order for that reason)
- Providing information to or testifying before any governmental body or law-enforcement official in connection with an investigation, hearing, or inquiry into the employer’s alleged violation of federal or state law or regulation
If you prove that your employer retaliated against you for blowing the whistle, you may sue for:
- Reinstatement to your job
- Lost wages, benefits, and compensation
- Reasonable attorney’s fees and legal costs
Restrictions on non-competition agreements
A new Virginia employment law, House Bill 330/Senate Bill 480, prohibits non-competes for employees who make less than the average weekly salary in Virginia. Just like it sounds, a non-competition or non-compete agreement prohibits you from competing with your employer. This means you can’t work for a competing business, and you also can’t have your own business that provides the same or similar services as your employer. A non-compete agreement should be limited to a certain geographical location and to a certain period of time. Depending on your job, your employer, and the terms of the agreement, a non-compete can seriously limit your job opportunities.
If you meet the wage requirement under the new law, you can take legal action to have a non-compete agreement declared void and to recover:
- Any wages you lost because of the non-compete agreement
- Liquidated damages
- Reasonable attorney’s fees and legal costs
New Virginia employment laws give you more options
These new laws are a huge victory for employees in Virginia. For years, employees in DC and Maryland have had the choice of suing in state or federal court and the ability to bring claims under both state and federal laws. However, Virginia employees were often forced to sue in federal court because Virginia laws didn’t protect employees and Virginia courts favored employers. Virginia’s new laws give employees more options to pursue their rights and indicate a positive change in the Commonwealth’s attitude towards workers’ rights.
If you’re thinking about filing a claim under one of these new laws, it may be helpful to consult an employment attorney. An experienced lawyer will determine whether your employer is covered by the new laws and that you meet legal requirements. Your attorney can draft and file your complaint and ensure that you comply with filing deadlines and procedures. Under many of these new laws, you can seek reimbursement of legal fees if you win your case.
If you work in Virginia, and you believe your employer violated your workplace rights, Alan Lescht and Associates, P.C., can help. Our attorneys represent state and local government workers and private-sector employees in Virginia. We handle all types of employment issues, including discrimination and hostile work environment cases, contract disputes, wage and hour claims, misclassification complaints, and whistleblower retaliation claims.