New legislation has been passed in Virginia to protect employees from employers that do not pay wages that are owed. If Virginia House Bill 123 is either signed by Governor Ralph Northam or not acted upon by April 11, 2020, employees will have new rights to pursue unpaid wages. Virginia House Bill 123 has been passed by both the Virginia House and Senate. The new law would create a new right to sue in the collection of unpaid wages in Virginia. Virginia House Bill 123 also allow employees the right to seek triple damages and other remedies.
New Employer Damages and Penalties
Virginia House Bill 123 enables Virginia employees to bring suit against employers that fail to pay wages and also allows them to recover their wages owed, plus 8% interest from the date that the wages were due. In addition, Employees may awarded triple damages (three times the amount of their unpaid wages), attorney’s fees and/or other costs if a court finds that the employer knowingly failed to pay the wages that were due. There is also a $1,000 civil penalty against the employee for a violation.
Hypothetical: Under the new law, for example, if an employer fails to pay an employee $2,000 that is earned, they could be liable for that amount, plus 8%, potentially 3 times the wages that were not paid and attorney’s fees incurred by the employee. The $2,000 that was unpaid could easily become a judgment against the employer for $5,000 to $10,000 by the time damages, attorney’s fees and civil penalties are included.
Potential Employer Criminal Penalties
In addition to civil penalties, there are also criminal law penalties in the new legislation. Employers can be found guilty of a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 12 months in jail, if the wages owed are less than $10,000. Employers are to be considered guilty of a felony, punishable by a prison term of up to five years, if the value of unpaid wages is at least $10,000 or if the employer previously has a prior conviction involving a similar wage issue. Criminal liability now only applies if the non-payment of wages was willful with the intent to defraud. If Virginia House Bill 123 is signed or otherwise allowed to become law, it would be effective on July 1, 2020.
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Some states are moving to not only legalize marijuana but to also bar drug screening in employment for its use. For example, Nevada is one of these states. Beginning next year, most employers in the State of Nevada will not be able to turn down a job applicant solely for failing a marijuana drug test. This is the result of new state law, Nevada Assembly Bill 132, which will become effective on January 1, 2020. There is some discussion that a similar law will also be coming to Colorado and a number of other jurisdictions soon. Other jurisdictions such as New York City, Maine and the District of Columbia have also enacted similar laws.
Nevada’s New Marijuana Drug Testing Law
The new marijuana-related employment law will not bar employers from testing job applicants for marijuana usage, and it will not stop them from refusing to hire applicants that test positive for other drugs. There are some exceptions to the new law.
It does not apply to physicians, emergency medical technicians, firefighters or those that have job requirements involving driving and in positions which could adversely affect the safety of others. A copy of the new law can be found here. It is likely to be the first of many similar laws that are enacted in states that have legalized marijuana usage.
Virginia Still Criminalizes Marijuana Use – Change is Slow
While Nevada and other states have moved forward with decriminalizing marijuana usage and beginning to bar employment-related drug screening, Virginia still criminalizes marijuana usage. Furthermore, there is not yet a medical marijuana usage law in place.
Virginia employers remain able to terminate employees for testing positive for or using marijuana. Attorney General Mark Herring recently suggested changing these laws, which could be the start of a long process in Virginia. The first step in Virginia will be to decriminalize marijuana and then changes to employment law will ultimately follow.
Federal Marijuana Law – Change is Even Slower
Individuals should keep in mind that even as these states legalize certain drugs, these state laws have no effect on federal criminal drug laws barring usage. Furthermore, federal employees and security clearance applicants/holders are still barred and can be fired for marijuana usage.
I strongly believe that the federal government will likely change these laws in the next 5-10 years. For federal security clearance holders, marijuana usage will likely be reduced to an abuse standard, like with alcohol, but at present federal employees and security clearance holders can lose their security clearances with even one-time use in a state or jurisdiction that has legalized marijuana.
If you are in need of employment law representation in Virginia, please contact our office at 703-668-0070 or through our contact page to schedule a consultation. Please also visit and like us on Facebook or Twitter.
There are a number of states which serve as laboratories for new types of employment laws that eventually may make it to the Commonwealth of Virginia and other jurisdictions. As we go through 2018, there are a number of new employment laws and bills that have been proposed or enacted by different states to improve employment conditions for employees. It should be interesting to see which ones eventually get enacted by Virginia or other counties and municipalities. Many of these laws take a few years to develop and get introduced in some form in Virginia. This article discusses them.
The following is a sampling of 5 new types of state employment laws that are pending or have been enacted in recent months:
1. Parental Leave: The State of California has enacted a new law (SB 63) which requires businesses with at least 20 employees to provide 12 weeks of unpaid and job protected family leave for employees to bond with a new baby, an adoptee or for a foster care placement. The law would also prohibit an employer from refusing to pay for regular health care costs during the period of family leave.
2. Employer and Salary Information: California has also enacted (AB 168), a new law which would prohibits an employer from seeking the salary history information of an applicant or relying upon the applicant’s salary history information as a factor in hiring or in setting an appropriate salary. Connecticut has passed a similar law (PA 18-8)
3. Social Media Information Protection Law: Vermont has enacted a new social medial privacy law (21 V.S.A. § 4951) which prohibits employers from requesting or requiring an employee to turn over their social media account information or to allow employer access to their social media accounts. Virginia has been ahead of many states in these types of protections, enacting their own version of social media protection for employees (Virginia Code § 40.1-28.7:5). The new Vermont law has more enforcement mechanisms than the Virginia law should an employee be affected.
4. Ban the Box – Prior Criminal Conviction History: California has enacted a new law (AB 1008) which prohibits employers with more than 5 employees from asking applicants about criminal convictions on employment applications or at any time prior to receiving a conditional offer of employment. After an offer has been extended, the employer may deny employment based on prior convictions, but must provide the applicant due process before a final decision is made. The new law also prohibits employers from considering or disseminating information about prior arrests not leading to convictions when conducting background checks.
5. Sexual Harassment/Domestic Violence Leave: California (AB-2366), New York and a number of other states have put forth bills that would give or enhance the ability of victims of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking to use leave or receive accommodations from employers without being subject to retaliation.
When facing employment issues it can be important to have the assistance and advice of counsel. If you need assistance with an employment issue, please contact our office at 703-668-0070 or at www.berrylegal.com to schedule a consultation. Please also visit and like or follow us on Facebook or Twitter.