Wrongful Termination Tips for Virginia Employees

Our DC-Metropolitan Based Law Firm Specializes in Employment, Security Clearance, and Retirement Law.

This article contains wrongful termination tips for Virginia employees. Our law firm represents individuals in Virginia and the greater Washington, D.C. area when they are terminated from their employment illegally. This is often referred to as wrongful termination. Many issues come into play when an employee is terminated. These employment issues are compounded by anxiety, fears and other strong emotions. It is very important for an employee to attempt to handle being terminated the right way because of issues that arise later.  Here are some tips for an employee to consider if they are fired by their employer:

1. Handle Termination Day Professionally: This is by far the most important tip. As difficult as this may be, an individual should handle their termination without drama. This is usually one of the most difficult things for individuals to do. However, if an individual handles this poorly, it can cause major issues for them later on. Individuals who cannot hold their emotions in check often end up much worse than those that quietly gather their belongings, hold their head high and leave on their termination date. In the worst case, if an individual makes a scene when they are fired, the employer may exaggerate the issue and call the police. Furthermore, leaving in a pleasant manner makes it much easier to settle a wrongful termination case later should the individual consider taking that step. Doing so also reduces the possibility that an employer will challenge a former employee’s attempt to obtain unemployment compensation or cause a problem if the individual later applies for a security clearance or another position.

2. Don’t Leave with Employer Materials: Individuals should be very careful when leaving employment not to take proprietary employer materials, physical items, or other employer documents without permission. We commonly see this issue arise when an individual is wrongly terminated, but the employer later claims as a defense that the employee “took” or “stole” materials or proprietary data from an employer. Most of these types of allegations relate to an attempt by the employee to take digital materials with them on their last day, but there are many different types of potential scenarios.

3. Seek a Reference: When an employee is fired, the usual next step is for them to find new employment. Even if a prior supervisor will not serve as a reference due to the termination, an individual should see if former supervisors (perhaps those no longer with the former employer) or others still employed at the employer will serve as a reference. Having a reference for the period of time worked at the former employment will vastly improve one’s chances of obtaining a new position. Even if an individual has been fired, having someone available who can speak to the former employee’s work/performance ability can go a far way to mitigate the damage of the termination.

4. Don’t Sign Agreements While Being Terminated: In many cases, employers will try to limit their liability for wrongful termination by presenting potential agreements to employees they are firing. Such agreements might offer a short amount of pay (1-2 weeks) in exchange for extinguishing all of the employee’s rights. Before signing such an agreement it is important to have an attorney review it. Many former employees come to us after they have signed such agreements which makes it very difficult to take any action on their behalf later.

5. Consult with an Attorney if Wrongful Termination Issues Arise: Not every firing involves wrongful termination. Many situations do not call for the involvement of lawyers. However, if an employee believes that they were terminated wrongfully or illegally and are concerned with their rights they should seek legal advice and do so in a timely manner. Many employment rights are time sensitive so they should be evaluated immediately, if at all.

In the vast majority of employment termination cases that we see, individuals are able to rebuild their careers with good planning and preparation. Generally, most individuals come back to us a year or so after a termination case and tell us that they are in a better place of employment and are happier. The odds of doing so quickly increase when a termination is handled properly by the former employee.

Conclusion

We represent Virginia employees in their legal defense against employment wrongful termination. If you need legal assistance, please contact our office at (703) 668-0070 or at www.berrylegal.com to schedule a consultation.  Please also visit and like us on Facebook at Berry and Berry PLLC Facebook Page.

Virginia finally has passed new legislation that allows for public sector unions that can bargain for employee rights, their conditions of employment and enter into collective bargaining agreements. On May 1, 2021, Virginia’s new law, Virginia Code § 40.1-57.2, will take effect. This law completely changes the union movement in Virginia for public sector employees. Prior to the new law, counties, cities or towns were not allowed to recognize or negotiate with labor unions or associations representing their public sector employees. This new legislation will affect all types of public sector employees. Under the new law, the county or city has to authorize labor unions in their jurisdiction for them to exist.   

The New Union Labor Law in Virginia

The new Virginia law reads as follows:

VA Code § 40.1-57.2. (Effective May 1, 2021) Collective bargaining.

A. No state, county, city, town, or like governmental officer, agent, or governing body is vested with or possesses any authority to recognize any labor union or other employee association as a bargaining agent of any public officers or employees, or to collectively bargain or enter into any collective bargaining contract with any such union or association or its agents with respect to any matter relating to them or their employment or service unless, in the case of a county, city, or town, such authority is provided for or permitted by a local ordinance or by a resolutionAny such ordinance or resolution shall provide for procedures for the certification and decertification of exclusive bargaining representatives, including reasonable public notice and opportunity for labor organizations to intervene in the process for designating an exclusive representative of a bargaining unit. As used in this section, “county, city, or town” includes any local school board, and “public officers or employees” includes employees of a local school board.

What the New Law Means

Collective bargaining for public sector employees had previously existed in a number of Virginia jurisdictions until a 1977 Virginia Supreme Court ruling in Commonwealth v. Arlington County, 217 Va. 558 (1977) which prohibited local governments from collective bargaining with unions. It appears that Fairfax, Arlington and Loudoun Counties are already studying the effects that the unionization will have. Additionally, in preparation for the new legislation Alexandria has proposed a public employees collective bargaining ordinance, including police, fire, labor and trades and general government employees. In general, unions will not be available for senior or managerial-level employees

The new Virginia law will allow counties, cities and towns the ability to adopt ordinances recognizing labor unions and enter into collective bargaining agreements with them. The new law is not mandatory, but allows localities the ability to permit employees to have unions. If such union interest arises, counties, cities, or towns must vote to adopt or not adopt an ordinance authorizing them within 120 days of receiving certification from a majority of public employees in an appropriate bargaining unit. The legislation will ultimately enable police officers, teachers, fire personnel and other types of government employees in Virginia to unionize.

The legislation shows that the days of Virginia is the first step in what will be evolving legislation over the coming years further broadening the scope of labor unions in this state.

Contact Us

If you are in need of employment law legal representation or advice, 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.

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.

drug test

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.

Conclusion

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.

Several Virginia employees have come to us to discuss the reasonable accommodation process when they develop a medical condition or disability that requires a change in their duties or other workplace adjustments in order for them to continue their employment. Our law firm represents private, federal, state, and county sector employees throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia in reasonable accommodation cases.

What are Reasonable Accommodations?

A reasonable accommodation is an employee’s request to change their employment conditions, assignments, hours, etc. in order to allow them to continue working in a position despite having a disability or serious medical condition. Of note, the reasonable accommodation process applies to both employees and job applicants in all states, including the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Under federal law, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which applies to most employees, encompasses and outlines reasonable accommodations. Federal employees are also covered under the Rehabilitation Act, which incorporates similar protections as the ADA for these types of employees. According to these laws, employers are required to engage in the reasonable accommodation process for qualified employees unless it would create an undue hardship for them.

In Virginia, many employees are also covered under the Virginians with Disabilities Act, which applies to most employers. Under both federal and state laws, the ultimate goal of the reasonable accommodation process is to enable employees with disabilities the opportunity to enjoy an equal opportunity in employment. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) provides guidelines for reasonable accommodation requests.

How to Request a Reasonable Accommodation

The most usual type of reasonable accommodation involves an employee that has developed a medical condition or disability that requires some modifications or adjustments to their working arrangements. Typically, the employee will then ask for a reasonable accommodation by approaching their supervisor or HR department, depending on the employer, and asking for one. A request for reasonable accommodation can be either formal or informal. For instance, depending on the employer, some have created specific forms covering reasonable accommodation requests which must be completed; whereas, other employers simply allow informal verbal discussions between the employee and their immediate supervisor in an effort to resolve the issue.

Regardless of form, once requested, there is typically a discussion/meeting about the reasonable accommodation requested. The discussion between an employer and employee is referred to as the “interactive process,” which simply means that the employer must engage the employee in attempting to resolve the reasonable accommodation request. This process does not mean that an employer has to grant every accommodation sought (or even the specific one requested by the employee); rather, the employer is only required to make a good faith effort to accommodate a disabled employee.

How to Find Examples of Reasonable Accommodations

There are far too many examples of reasonable accommodations to list here as they significantly vary based on an employee’s specific disability and their particular needs. However, the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) provides examples of reasonable accommodations regarding specific medical conditions. For example, JAN provides specific examples of potential accommodations for those facing back impairments which can be found here or for depression that can be found here.  In all, JAN provides reasonable accommodation ideas for approximately 96 types of disabilities and medical conditions.

Conclusion

When an employee in the Commonwealth of Virginia needs to request a reasonable accommodation due to a medical condition, it is important to obtain legal advice and/or legal representation. Our law firm is ready to advise and represent Commonwealth of Virginia employees in the reasonable accommodation process. Should you need assistance in this process, please contact us by telephone at 703-668-0070 or through our contact page. Please also visit and like us on our Facebook and Twitter pages.

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.  

Conclusion

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.

Over the last several years in our employment law practice in Virginia, we have been advising employees on the proper use of social media in connection with their duties as an employee. Social media is one of the most unique and changing areas of employment law today. This article provides some basic tips for employees and a summary of their current rights in Virginia.

Social Media Tips – Tips for Employees to Avoid

Don’t Add Friends & Supervisors: Avoid (where possible) becoming friends or connected with supervisors (and sometimes co-workers). It has often been the case that we have had employees face discipline resulting from Tweets, Facebook or Instagram posts that even well-meaning individuals forward to the employer. For instance, we have seen posts ridiculing a supervisor eventually make it to the supervisor. It tends to create an atmosphere ripe for retaliation and discipline.

Avoid Workplace Criticism on Social Media: Avoid mentioning problems or other issues that arise at work. We have usually found that even a well-meaning friend can pass on information to a supervisor or company official that can lead to discipline or, at minimum, a less comfortable work environment.

Don’t Discuss Company Clients or Projects on Social Media: Avoid mentioning clients or other work specific information from your employer in your social media posts. Sometimes these clients get word of the post, see it online, or it makes the news. As a result, the employer often then takes disciplinary action against the employee.

Avoid Social Media Usage During Work Hours: While this may or may not be feasible for everyone, it is a good idea to avoid social media posting while at work. We have seen employees written up for social media posting during work hours or when using employer computers. In some cases, employers have argued, where social media posts include the  time and date posted, that they have not been working their duties while getting paid.

Virginia Employee Protections for Employees and Social Media

Some states have begun to legislate the first protections for social media accounts held by employees. This has been the case in the Commonwealth of Virginia. While the relatively new law in Virginia doesn’t protect an employee from the content that they post online through social media, it offers some protection for employees from employers who demand that an employee share it with them. Specifically, the new law bars employers from demanding or requiring access to an employee’s social media information as part of their employment.

Virginia Code § 40.1-28.7:5 protects employees from employers in:

(1) requesting their sign on information to media accounts; and

(2) requiring an employee to add a company manager or representative as a friend or contact on the social media account.

Furthermore, the Virginia law bars retaliation from employers that seek such information and are turned down by the employee.  The Virginia law provides that:

“An employer shall not:

1. Take action against or threaten to discharge, discipline, or otherwise penalize a current employee for exercising his rights under this section; or

2. Fail or refuse to hire a prospective employee for exercising his rights under this section.”

It is likely that this is only the first step in legislative protections for this area given the significant of social media today.  It is pretty clear that more protections for employees are needed and will come into place as states such as Virginia tackle the issue of how social media affects the workplace.

Conclusion

Keep in mind that not all companies take offense to social media posting and can have lax policies. The best idea is to find out company policy from the employer as early as possible. 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 us on our Facebook page.

The following is an article on leave laws and rules that cover Virginia employees. Leave issues generally tend to come up either during the course of an employee’s employment or immediately following the end of an individual’s employment. Leave laws and regulations also vary by the type of employer and jurisdiction of the employer. For instance, federal, state, county and private sector employers have different laws and rules governing leave.

Virginia has not enacted laws regarding many areas of employee leave as of yet, but that may be changing as other states enact improvements. Virginia is a state where most forms of employee leave are not mandatory on employers, but can become so if policies and practices are adopted by employers.  I also suspect that there will be additional changes in the future as Northern Virginia grows larger and adds more employers. Some jurisdictions, like the District of Columbia have moved towards expanded paid leave. Fortunately, for most Virginia employees, many forms of leave, while not mandatory are typically provided by employers in order for them to stay competitive in keeping key employees.

I will go through the major types of employee leave in Virginia below:

Vacation Leave / Annual Leave

Except for those situations involving medical issues, the most important form of leave involves annual or vacation leave.  In Virginia, private sector employers are not required by law to provide employees with vacation / annual leave, either in a paid or unpaid status. This surprises many employees. Additionally, the rules regarding this type of leave are different for federal, state and county employees in Virginia.

For example, federal employees accrue a certain amount of annual or vacation leave each pay period and can then use this leave for vacation time or taking time off. When a federal employee leaves the federal government, they are then paid out for the remaining balance of annual leave that they have not used.

While providing or paying out accrued vacation or annual leave has not been mandated for private sector employers in this state, if it is pursuant to a consistent employer practice or policy, the employer in Virginia may be required to pay such leave out to departing employees.

Sick Leave

In the Commonwealth of Virginia, there is also no state requirement that employers provide employees with sick leave benefits. Virginia is different in this respect when compared to many other states. For example, 7 states (Arizona, Connecticut, California, Oregon, Massachusetts, Arizona and Washington) and the District of Columbia have enacted state laws to require some form of paid sick leave.  It is likely that such laws will eventually make it to Virginia.

That said, if an employer decides to provide sick leave to employees in Virginia, it must follow their established policy. There are some other important considerations on sick leave. First, federal, state and county employees are generally given sick leave in increments. Additionally, pursuant to federal law, private sector employees of larger Virginia companies (more than 50 employees) are entitled to sick leave when given under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Under the FMLA, private sector employees in Virginia may take up to 12 weeks of leave in a 12-month period for a serious health condition, bonding with a new child, or qualifying exigencies.

This type of FMLA leave renews every 12 months as long as the employee continues to meet the eligibility requirements set out above. Employees may also take up to 26 weeks of leave in a single 12-month period to care for a family member who was injured on active military duty.

Administrative Leave

Administrative leave is a form of temporary leave from duties, with pay and employee benefits left intact. There is no entitlement to administrative leave for employees in Virginia, but it can and is often granted. Typically, this type of leave is granted for reasons related to misconduct, internal investigations, equal employment opportunity investigations or other miscellaneous issues that arise. Federal, state and county employees have their own unique policies for administrative leave, which vary.  In large part, administrative leave is used to pay an employee when they are being kept out of the workplace during the course of a disciplinary investigation.

Holiday Leave in Virginia

Additionally, the Commonwealth of Virginia does not require private employers to provide employees with either paid or unpaid holiday leave. A Virginia employer does not have to pay an employee premium or other enhanced pays for working on a holiday. Again, different standards apply for federal, county and state employees, depending on position (e.g. firefighter), who may receive holiday pay for their work and/or different types of premium pay. The good news is that most private sector employers voluntarily observe a paid holiday schedule.

Leave Without Pay in Virginia

Leave without pay is another type of leave available in Virginia, but not mandated by state law. LWOP, as it is called, takes the form of reduced hours or in taking an unpaid day off. LWOP could be used for intermittent FMLA, personal, sick or vacation time off. The employee receiving LWOP will not be compensated for this unpaid form of leave.

Military Leave in Virginia

Military leave is available to most Virginia employees.  Leave to participate in military service is not covered under Virginia law, but under federal law.  The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA).  USERRA requires that employers permit the return of an employee who is a uniformed service member to their position after they return from military service or training.

Voter Leave in Virginia

At present, an employer in Virginia is not required to give leave for an employee to vote. However, Virginia does require an employer to accommodate an employee who has been appointed as an election official in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Some federal and other public employees have policies of permitting leave for voting where necessary.

Jury Duty Leave In Virginia

An employer is not required to provide leave for jury duty in Virginia, but cannot discharge or retaliate against the employee if they have given reasonable notice to their employer of a jury obligation. Additionally, an employer may not charge a private sector employee vacation or annual leave for jury duty service. An employer that violates these provisions is guilty of a misdemeanor (VA Code. §18.2-465.1).

VA Code 18.2-464.1 provides, in part: “Any person who is summoned to serve on jury duty or any person, except a defendant in a criminal case, who is summoned or subpoenaed to appear in any court of law or equity when a case is to be heard or who, having appeared, is required in writing by the court to appear at any future hearing, shall neither be discharged from employment, nor have any adverse personnel action taken against him, nor shall he be required to use sick leave or vacation time, as a result of his absence from employment due to such jury duty or court appearance, upon giving reasonable notice to his employer of such court appearance or summons.”

Conclusion

If you need assistance with an employment issue or resolving a matter with an employer regarding leave issues, please contact our office at 703-668-0070 or at www.berrylegal.com to schedule a consultation. Please also like and visit us on Facebook.

An interesting topic in Virginia employment law involves an employee’s right to privacy within the workplace. While there have not yet been many specific laws enacted by the Commonwealth of Virginia governing employee rights in the workplace, this area of law is developing and changing almost as fast as technology is. In light of the advancements in monitoring technology available to employers, it is only a matter of time before we see more employee privacy issues addressed by the Virginia Legislature and our court system.

Thoughts on Employee Use of Employer Computers

In general, for a number of reasons we recommend that employees avoid using employer technology to conduct their own personal business. Virginia employers have been given a fair amount of leeway under existing laws to monitor employees in the workplace which means that employers can attempt access in reviewing their own computers and networks.

Regarding this issue, one of the biggest concerns that we have run across in representing employees in wrongful termination cases in Virginia involves an employee’s use or alleged misuse of an employer’s email, computers, network or Internet. Frequently, one of the first actions taken by an employer following a contentious termination is to conduct an examination of a former employee’s computer or prior Internet usage. The usual result is that the employer often claims that the former employee was conducting personal business or misusing the employer’s network. An employer may then claim that the employee violated Virginia’s Computer Crime Act, VA. Code § 18.2-152.3 or misappropriation or theft of trade secrets.

The best way for an employee to avoid these types of issues from arising either during or after employment is to not use the employer’s computer or network for any personal business.  While it can be inconvenient to consult legal counsel over these types os issues with employers, it can also be very costly to get it wrong and pay the costs of legal defense when an employer wants to pursue a former employee in some way.

Email and Internet Monitoring of Employees

Employers that monitor employee email or Internet use should obtain legal advice ahead of time to avoid the risk of running afoul of criminal and other statutes. This cannot be overemphasized. That said, an employer in Virginia typically has the ability to monitor emails and Internet usage on their own networks. Employers should warn employees about monitoring in advance. We usually advise employees that they should expect that their work email account may be monitored and should not be used for personal business even if they have not been so informed of a company’s decision to monitor email.

Employers also need to be careful to avoid accessing employee private, non-work email accounts to which they may have access. For example, an employer should avoid attempting to inappropriately log into a former employee’s private email account that remains accessible from the employee’s former computer. Virginia also has enacted the Virginia Computer Invasion of Privacy Law. If an employer does something egregious in the course of monitoring email or Internet usage, then it could be subject to a potential claim under this law or perhaps a tort (personal injury) claim.

VA Code § 18.2-152.5 provides for privacy protections for all individuals for unauthorized access.  Specifically, the privacy provisions of the Virginia Code provide that:

A person is guilty of the crime of computer invasion of privacy when he uses a computer or computer network and intentionally examines without authority any employment, salary, credit or any other financial or identifying information, as defined in clauses (iii) through (xiii) of subsection C of § 18.2-186.3, relating to any other person. “Examination” under this section requires the offender to review the information relating to any other person after the time at which the offender knows or should know that he is without authority to view the information displayed.

Telephone and Voice Mail

Some employers also monitor work-related employee telephone calls. A Virginia employer who wants to monitor telephone calls of an employee or voice mail messages must usually warn the employee in advance and the monitoring must be done in the scope of normal business. This is often accomplished by the employer at the beginning of employment, through policies listed in an employment contract or handbook. There are many pitfalls in monitoring telephone calls and voice mails of employees and this ideally should be done after receiving legal advice given that potential criminal issues could result if done incorrectly under both federal and Virginia wiretapping laws.

Security Camera Monitoring of Employees

With the widespread use and availability of small wireless cameras, a number of employers have attempted to monitor their employees using such technology. The courts have generally upheld an employer’s right to monitor its employees with security cameras so long as the monitoring is not particularly invasive. This has not yet been subject of major litigation in Virginia but it is no doubt forthcoming. In other jurisdictions, some courts have upheld employee privacy rights in situations where camera monitoring of employees has been very invasive such as with cameras in locker rooms or bathrooms. Many courts have permitted the use of such camera monitoring to the extent that employees are aware of it and can see the cameras, and that it is not misused.

Finally, Virginia does not yet recognize the traditional claim of invasion of privacy, which could help in employee rights claims when an employer goes too far. However, serious breaches of employee privacy can result in other types of tort claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress. Virginia case law and national trends continue to change and more employment rights and the ability to sue for egregious privacy violations are likely to develop in the future.

Microchipping Employees as a Form of Monitoring

While definitely a potentially future issue, at least 1 employer recently was in the news for offering employees a microchip to facilitate employer tasks.  Three Square Market, a technology company in Wisconsin asked workers to consent to having a microchip, about the size of a grain of rice implanted between their thumb and forefinger.  Approximately 50 of the 80 company employees agreed to this procedure.  The microchip will allow employees to check into work, access computers, open doors and purchase company food and drink.

This is clearly a major issue coming down the road, but is likely to take a number of years to develop through litigation.  For instance, it could easily be the case where states vote to ban such a practice, in advance, or otherwise regulate it. For now, it is just something to keep in mind for the future.

Employee Monitoring Cases Nationally

While Virginia has not been subject to too many employment cases as of yet involving employee monitoring, the issue has reached a number of other states.  a U.S. District Court has held that employees have no reasonable expectation of privacy even when employers have promised it. In Smyth v. Pillsbury, 914 F.Supp. 97 (E.D.Pa. 1996), the court ruled that an employer could read personal e-mails even when it had told employees it would not.

The U.S. Supreme Court, in Quon v. City of Ontario, 130 S. Ct. 2619 (2010),  held that a police officer, through his department issued device had no expectation of privacy in his text messages, even though his commanding officer had promised him that his messages would not be monitored. In Quon, the Court held that the officer should have ignored what his commanding officer told him and relied upon the boilerplate language in a form he was given with the device.

Conclusion

If you need assistance with Virginia employment law issues or issues involving the use of employee monitoring, please contact our office at (703) 668-0070 or at www.berrylegal.com to schedule a consultation. Please also visit and like us on Facebook.

The following are 6 employment tips that can be helpful when an employee in Virginia is facing significant employment issues like termination, discrimination or retaliation.

Six Employment Tips to Consider

  • Remain Calm.

When employment issues arise, it is extremely important that employees remain calm and keep their composure. As difficult as it may seem at the time, it is critical to stay calm while at work even when dealing with significant employment issues like termination, separation, or poor performance reviews. It is not helpful to argue with a supervisor over an employment issue that arises. Doing so can put an employee at risk for discipline, placement on leave, or even retaliation. In addition, employers could contact law enforcement or security if they feel the employee is irate and getting out of control.

  • Do Not Use Social Media to Talk About Employment Issues.

We advise employees not to advertise their employment issues on social media (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, etc.). Almost inevitably, when employees discuss their employment issues on social media, one of their “friends” will pass it to someone who then passes it on to the supervisor who was a party to the problem compounding difficulties for the employee at work.

  • Understand that Human Resources Supports Management.

A common misconception is that Human Resources is supposed to be a fair mediator of workplace disputes. This is not the case in 95 percent of employment issues. Human Resources is there to support management’s position in personnel matters. It is important to seek advice elsewhere before reaching out to Human Resources if an employee’s dispute involves a supervisor. HR generally tends to also pass on complaints by employees to supervisors and not treat them confidentially.

  • Do Not Use Your Work Email Account or Computer for Discussing Employment Issues.

Employees should not use their employer’s email account to send personal or private information, especially related to their employment problems. We also recommend that employees not use work computers for drafting personal documents, storing pictures or other storage. Otherwise, the information employees store on their work computers can potentially be used against them. It is often very easy to use an employer’s email account or computer for private or workplace issues, but it can hurt an employee’s employment claims later or cause them to be terminated. The employer can potentially claim misuse of a work email account or computer. If an employer begins to suspect problems with an employee, the employer may take steps to review an employee’s email account or computer. Employers also usually archive emails for each employee.

  • Don’t Talk With Co-Workers About Employment Problems.

It is also important to be very careful about discussing employment problems with co-workers in the office, even if they are your friends. It is quite common for an employee to tell a co-worker about his or her employment problems with a supervisor, then the co-worker will (even inadvertently) tell another supervisor or other co-workers where it eventually makes its way back to the supervisor involved. This can result in workplace retaliation.

  • If Terminated or Separated, Get Legal Advice Before Signing an Agreement.

If an employee is terminated or separated and is presented with a severance, separation, or other settlement agreement, he or she should consult with an attorney to discuss the rights that he or she may be waiving and the terms of the agreement before signing it.

Conclusion

If you need assistance with employment law issues in Virginia, please contact our office at 703-668-0070 or at www.berrylegal.com to schedule a consultation. Please also like and visit us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/BerryBerryPllc.

In Virginia, most employees are considered “at will,” which generally means they can be terminated or resign at any time. Even if they are “at will,” when an employee’s employment ends, an employer may offer severance to an employee in exchange for the employee’s waiver of his / her rights, including the right to file suit for any work-related issues. In Virginia, in the absence of an employment contract, an employer usually has no obligation to provide an employee severance pay. If severance pay is offered, an employer will almost always provide the employee with a severance agreement. It is important to obtain legal advice before signing such an agreement.

This article discusses severance agreements in the Commonwealth of Virginia and some issues associated with them for employees.

What is a Severance Agreement?

In Virginia, a severance agreement is a contract between an employee and an employer that specifies the terms of an employment departure. Severance agreements can be offered in cases of terminations, resignations, layoffs and/or retirement. They may be available in other types of situations as well. In order for a severance agreement to be valid, it must usually provide something of value to the employee to which the employee is not already entitled. For example, in most cases, a certain financial sum is provided to the departing employee by an employer in exchange for a waiver of rights, usually referred to as a general release, by the employee.

Additionally, in Virginia and many other states, employers are generally required to provide an employee time to consider a severance agreement before signing. The Older Workers Benefit Protection Act (OWBPA), in part, requires that an employer provide employees over 40 years of age with a 21-day consideration period, or a 45-day consideration period in the case of a large reduction-in-force (RIF), and at least a 7-day revocation period. Often, employers rush employees to sign a severance agreement and do not adhere to the procedures for severance agreements. The terms of a severance agreement are generally negotiable between the employer and employee. However, an employee will not necessarily be told this when the employer offers the severance agreement.

Considerations in Negotiating Severance Agreements

Some of the issues to consider in advance of signing a severance agreement may include, but are not limited to, the following:

Financial terms and timing of severance payments

Tax consequences

Non-disparagement clauses

Re-employment/re-hiring possibilities for departing employee

Continuation of employment benefits (i.e. health)

Unemployment compensation issues

Which claims are waived

Confidentiality terms

Scope of non-competition after leaving employment

Preservation of trade secrets

References and points of contact for prospective employers

Recommendation letters

Consequences of violating the severance agreement

Severance cases must be dealt with quickly and appropriately, with the assistance of counsel. Each severance case is different and an employee may need legal representation in negotiating a severance agreement. Before an employee signs a severance agreement, he or she should consult with an attorney to discuss the rights that he or she may be waiving and the terms of the severance agreement.

Conclusion

If you need assistance with negotiating a severance agreement in Virginia, please contact our office at 703-668-0070 or at www.berrylegal.com to schedule a consultation. Please also like and visit us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/BerryBerryPllc or follow us on Twitter.

If you wish to explore legal representation, please call our office or use this form to inquire about our consultation process.

Call Us Today!703-668-0070

Office Location

Plaza America
11700 Plaza America Drive
Suite 305
Reston, VA 20190

Get Directions

Follow Us