We often are asked by employees about their options for filing a discrimination or harassment complaint in Virginia. The answer is that it depends on many factors. For private, federal and other public sector employees in Virginia there are a number of options for filing a complaint of discrimination, sexual harassment, retaliation and/or an ongoing hostile work environment. The proper place for filing the complaint depends on a number of factors, including what type of employee you are, the type of discrimination, where you live, and your type of employer. When considering filing this type of complaint it is generally important to consult an attorney to determine the best forum in which to file your complaint. Additionally, it is important to note that where there is more than one option for filing a discrimination or harassment complaint that it is important to get legal advice on the best option given the facts of a particular case.
Federal Employees in Virginia
For federal employees in Virginia, the usual method of filing an Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) complaint is to go through their federal agency’s EEO office within 45 days of the date of discrimination. This short deadline can usually be satisfied by contacting a federal EEO counselor contact directly. Federal agencies will provide the EEO contact information for federal EEO complaint counselors. The formal complaint process will follow later if the matter is not resolved. There are also other, less common, routes for filing a federal employee discrimination/harassment complaint, such as filing a grievance (where permitted) and/or a complaint though the Office of Special Counsel, but these are usually not effective when compared to a federal employee’s options at the EEOC.
Private Sector Employees in Virginia
For private sector employees (individuals employed by private companies) in Virginia, there are a number of potential options for filing a discrimination or harassment complaint depending on where they live and the size of their employer. A private sector employee employed by a company with 15 employees or more may file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which is the most common route for those employed by private businesses. The deadline for doing so in Virginia is generally 180 days which can be extended to 300 days, because of a worksharing agreement between Virginia and the EEOC.
A private sector employee can also file a discrimination/harassment complaint with the Virginia Division of Human Rights (DHR) if their employer has 6 to 14 employees, but less than 15 (except for age discrimination claims, when coverage extends to businesses that employ between 6 to 20 employees). A private sector employee, if the matter involves a government contractor, can also file a complaint with the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP), but this complaint process is less commonly used. Lastly, some counties and municipalities in Virginia have enacted discrimination and harassment ordinances, like Fairfax County and Arlington County which also have procedures for filing complaints. The deadlines for county filings can vary between 180 and 365 days, depending on county. In sum, it is important to figure out the correct forum and to file a claim well in advance of any deadlines.
State Employees in the Commonwealth of Virginia
State employees in Virginia have somewhat different discrimination/harassment complaint options. These include filing a complaint with the Virginia Department of Human Resource Management, Office of Equal Employment Opportunity Services (OEES) or the EEOC. These rules have been in flux given that they were provided by Executive Order, which have not been renewed in the past but are currently in effect.
County and Local Employees in Virginia
Finally, county employees have options for filing a discrimination complaints in Virginia as well. They may generally file discrimination/harassment complaints with the EEOC, or if covered by their county or municipality, a local claim. By far, the majority of county employees take their cases to the EEOC and then to the court system, if their matter is not resolved.
It is very important to consult an attorney before choosing a forum in which to file a discrimination / harassment complaint because the correct place for filing complaints vary on the facts of the claim, location and size and nature of the employer. If you need assistance with filing an employment discrimination or harassment complaint, 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 White House recently asked states to enact legislation banning non-compete agreements for low-wage workers in an effort to increase competition and improve the economy. In a White House report issued on October 25, 2016, it explained that these types of agreements often prevent out-of-work employees from finding new jobs in their career fields. The White House also stated that these non-compete agreements interfere with worker mobility.
A non-compete agreement typically bars an employee from working for a competitor or starting his or her own business once the employee leaves the employer. The White House report cited the fact that 20 percent of U.S. workers have signed non-compete agreements preventing them from working for competitors. The figure included an approximate 17 percent of employees who do not hold a college degree. Virginia is in the majority of states that current permits non-compete agreements to exist. A minority of states have banned them as anti-competitive.
Proposed Changes to Non-Compete Agreements
The White House is requesting that states pass bans on non-compete agreements for workers who do not possess trade secrets. Additionally, the White House is asking that states require companies to be more transparent about contracts. The three principal recommendations in the White House report on state changes to non-compete agreements include:
1. Enact State Bans on Non-Compete Clauses for Certain Categories of Workers: (1) workers under a certain wage threshold; (2) workers in certain occupations involving public health and safety; (3) workers who are unlikely to possess trade secrets; or (4) those who may suffer undue adverse impacts from non-competes, such as workers laid off or terminated without cause.
2. Improvement in Transparency and Fairness: of non-compete agreements by, for example, disallowing non-competes unless they are proposed before a job offer or significant promotion has been accepted (because an applicant who has accepted an offer and declined other positions may have less bargaining power); providing consideration over and above continued employment for workers who sign non-compete agreements; or encouraging employers to better inform workers about the law in their state and the existence of non-competes in contracts and how they work.
3. Provide Incentives to Employers: to write enforceable contracts, and encourage the elimination of unenforceable provisions by, for example, promoting the use of the “red pencil doctrine,” which renders contracts with unenforceable provisions void in their entirety. Virginia currently follows this approach.
These proposed changes are hopefully raising more awareness regarding the issue of arbitrary and meaningless overuse of certain non-compete agreements. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon to see lower wage-earning employees being forced to sign unnecessary and overly restrictive non-compete agreements. However, there have been some positive developments, and three states have already enacted changes to non-compete agreements, including California, Oklahoma, Illinois and North Dakota.
Virginia Non-Compete Agreements
In Virginia, it is likely that there will be discussions about further limiting the scope of non-compete agreements in the future given the overuse of such agreements. The general history for non-compete agreements in Virginia has been that they were disfavored at law, but permitted under certain circumstances. The problem that the legislature will have to eventually take on eventually is whether they should bar non-compete agreements for workers earning lower wages and those who do not truly have access to proprietary information.
Our firm represents Virginia employees regarding employment matters and non-compete agreements. We can be contacted at www.berrylegal.com or by telephone at (703) 668-0070. Our Facebook page can be found at Berry & Berry Facebook Page.