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Virginia employees can sue for unpaid wages starting July 1

Last month, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam signed several new amendments to Virginia law that will greatly expand employee protections.  Beginning on July 1, 2020, Virginia employees will have more rights when it comes to unpaid wages.  Here’s what you need to know about the new laws:

What does the old law say?

Under Virginia’s current law, if your employer doesn’t pay you, all you can do is file a complaint with the Commissioner of the Department of Labor and Industry. Then, it’s up to the Commissioner to decide whether to go after your employer for the unpaid wages.  You can only take your employer to court for unpaid wages under a federal law, like the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).  However, many employees are exempt from the FLSA.

How will the new law help?

Virginia’s new law gives you a private right of action.  This means you have the right to sue your employer on your own.  You don’t have to depend on the Commissioner to act on your behalf.  Beginning on July 1, 2020, you can go directly to court and file a lawsuit against your employer for unpaid wages under Virginia law.  Under the new law, you must file a lawsuit within three years of the date your employer fails to pay you.  The new law also increases the amount of damages you can recover if you win your case.

What damages can I get in an unpaid wages case?

Your damages will depend on whether your employer acted “knowingly.”  In general terms, your employer acted “knowingly” if he/she:

  • Knew he/she was violating the law;
  • Deliberately ignored the law; OR
  • Recklessly disregarded the law.

If nonpayment was unknowing, you can recover:

  • Two times the amount of unpaid wages, plus 8% interest, AND
  • Reasonable attorney fees and costs

If your employer knowingly failed to pay you, you can recover:

  • Three times the amount of unpaid wages AND
  • Reasonable attorney fees and costs.

What if my employer retaliates against me?

Beginning on July 1, 2020, Virginia law will prohibit employers from retaliating against employees who:

  • File an unpaid wages complaint with the Commission of the Department of Labor and Industry,
  • File a lawsuit for unpaid wages, or
  • Testify in connection with an unpaid wages claim.

If your employer retaliates against you, you can file a complaint with the Commissioner.  The Commissioner may bring legal action against your employer.  If the action is successful, your employer may be ordered to reinstate you to your job and pay you two times the amount of wages you lost because of the retaliation.

How can an employment lawyer help me recover unpaid wages?

If you’re thinking about filing an unpaid wages case under Virginia’s 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.  Additionally, your lawyer can add claims to your case and give you legal advice if your employer retaliates against you.  And Virginia’s new laws allow you to seek reimbursement of attorney fees and costs through the court.

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.

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