Reasonable Accommodations for Virginia Employees

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

Reasonable accommodation for Virginia employees

We are often asked about reasonable accommodations by employees in Virginia when they develop a medical condition that requires a change in
their duties or other adjustments. We advise private, federal, state and county sector employees in Virginia this regard. The reasonable accommodation process applies to both employees and job applicants in all states including the Commonwealth of Virginia.

What is a Reasonable Accommodation?

The usual first question that comes up is what is a reasonable accommodation?  A reasonable accommodation is an employee’s request to modify their employment conditions, assignments, hours, etc. in order to allow them to continue working in a position despite a disability. Most employees are covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) which covers reasonable accommodations. Federal employees are covered under the Rehabilitation Act which is very similar to the ADA. According to these laws, employers are required to engage in the reasonable accommodation process to qualified employees unless it would create an undue hardship for them. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and other civil rights governmental entities enforce reasonable accommodation matters.

In the Commonwealth of Virginia, employees are also covered under the Virginians with Disabilities Act which applies to all employers. Under both the federal and state laws, the goal of the reasonable accommodation process is to enable a qualified employee with a disability the opportunity to enjoy an equal opportunity in employment.

How Does an Individual Request a Reasonable Accommodation?

A request for reasonable accommodation can be formal or informal. Some employers have created specific forms covering reasonable accommodation requests and others simply involve verbal discussions between the employee and their immediate supervisor. The most typical reasonable accommodation involves an employee that has developed a medical condition or disability that requires some modifications or adjustments to their working arrangements. Usually, an employee will ask for a reasonable accommodation by approaching their supervisor or Human Resources department, depending on the employer and asking for one. Once requested, there is usually a discussion about the reasonable accommodation requested.

The Interactive Process

The reasonable accommodation discussion between an employer and employee is often called the “interactive process” which simply means that the employer must engage the employee in attempting to resolve the reasonable accommodation request. The interactive process does not mean that an employer has to grant every accommodation sought, or even the specific one requested. The employer is required to give a reasonable effort at resolving the reasonable accommodation at issue.

Examples of Reasonable Accommodations

The following are some examples of reasonable accommodation requests. There are far too many to list, but the following are examples.

Example A: An employee develops carpal tunnel syndrome and needs a new keyboard because their current keyboard is aggravating their condition. A request for a new keyboard is a request for a reasonable accommodation.

Example B: An employee is undergoing medical treatment in the morning for epilepsy. He informs his supervisor that he needs an adjustment in his starting time so that he can take his medication in the morning before starting work. This is a request for a reasonable accommodation.

Example C: An employee develops a heart condition and needs to take daily breaks at a certain time in order to take their medication. A request to take breaks in order to take medication is a reasonable accommodation.

Example D: An employee develops a disability that causes them to be unable to perform the duties of their position. An employee’s request for reassignment is a request for reasonable accommodation.

There are far too many examples of reasonable accommodations to list here, as they vary based on an employee’s specific medical condition and needs.  Additional examples of reasonable accommodations for specific conditions can be found here.

Conclusion

When a Virginia employee is in need of a reasonable accommodation, it is important to obtain legal advice and legal representation. Our law firm stands ready to advise and represent Commonwealth of Virginia employees in the reasonable accommodation process. We can be contacted at www.berrylegal.com or by telephone at (703) 668-0070.

Our wrongful termination lawyers for Virginia employees often meet with individuals that believe that they have been wrongfully terminated from their employer. When dealing with these types of employment issues, it is important to seek out the advice of a Virginia employment lawyer knowledgeable in these areas of law. This article discusses the rights and issues associated with wrongful termination for Virginia employees.

There is nothing quite the same as being called into one’s supervisor’s office, or to an employer’s HR office (almost always on a Friday) only to be informed that their employment has been terminated. In most cases, the employee is unaware of the pending termination and there is little advance notice. As a result, it is a fairly big shock to the person being terminated. Once notice is given, the person is often quickly escorted out of the office and is faced with confusion and a sense of loss. Many employees are left bewildered, wondering about their rights.

Wrongful Termination Law in Virginia

Employee terminations in Virginia are considered “at will”, which generally leaves it to the discretion of an employer whether to terminate an employee for pretty much any reason unless illegal. However, if the employer has violated a state or federal law in terminating the employee, the termination can be considered “wrongful” and there may be potential avenues to challenge the termination. These can include, but are not limited to:

  1. Whistleblowing Reprisal;
  2. Discrimination (age, race, sex, national origin, etc.);
  3. Sexual Harassment;
  4. Hostile Work Environment: and
  5. Violation of Employment Contract.

Whistleblower Status

The law with respect to whistleblowing is changing, and moving towards favoring an employee when the case merits. For many years, that was not the case in Virginia. In Bowman v. State Bank of Keysville, the Virginia Supreme Court first recognized an exception to the employment at-will doctrine based upon an employer’s violation of public policy in the termination of an employee. I expect this to continue to be an evolving doctrine where more exceptions are found. There has been a lot of new legislation in this area, expanding employees whistleblower rights in Virginia. In July, 2020 Virginia enacted its first dedicated whistleblower protection law. The whistleblower protection were enacted in the Virginia Whistleblower Protection Law.

Discrimination Protections

Additionally, a Virginia employee may have rights with respect to claims that an employee has been terminated for issues related to sex harassment, hostile work environment and other workplace discrimination. Many of these claims are protected by the Civil Rights Act through the EEOC and the Virginia Human Rights Act.

Virginia Contract Protections

Depending on whether an employee has signed an employment contract with their employer in Virginia, they may also have other options. It is common for some employees to have rights through the employment contract that they signed.

Employee Should Determine their Legal Options

The first step that a Virginia employee should take if they believe that they have been wrongfully terminated is to make an appointment with a Virginia employment attorney to determine whether or not the action falls into the category of a “wrongful termination.” It is also important to consult with an attorney to see what steps may be taken to minimize the career damage that has just occurred and whether the action taken may be appealable.

It is usually the case that employees have more options following a termination than are apparent to them initially. The employer may have broken (or bent) federal or Virginia laws with respect to the termination action.  If so, then it may be possible to negotiate a resolution on behalf of the employee, with the employer, resolving the matter. A resolution generally occurs more often when the employee retains an attorney to contact the employer about the inappropriate or illegal nature of an employee’s termination. An attorney may also be able to tell an employee if their termination does not meet the criteria for wrongful termination and offer other strategies.

Contact Us

When facing wrongful termination issues in Virginia it is important to obtain the advice of and representation of a Virginia employment lawyer. Our law firm advises and represents individuals in wrongful termination matters in Virginia and other jurisdictions. We can be contacted at www.berrylegal.com or by telephone at (703) 668-0070.

Thoughts on Wrongful Termination

We represent employees in Virginia and the greater Washington, D.C. area when they are wrongfully terminated from their employment. We represent individuals in wrongful termination cases when an employer terminates a person for some illegal or inappropriate reason. Many issues come into play when an employee is terminated. These types of employment issues are compounded by anxiety, fears, financial concerns and other strong emotions. It is very important for an employee to attempt to handle being terminated the right way because of issues that may arise later.

Five Tips in Wrongful Termination Cases

Here are five tips for Virginia employees to consider should they face termination.

1. Handle Termination Professionally

As difficult as this can be, an employee should handle their termination without drama. This is usually one of the most difficult things for an employee 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. 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 Take Employer Materials or Property

Individuals should be very careful when leaving employment not to take proprietary employer materials, physical items, data 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 type 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 that can arise.

3. Try to Maintain a Reference for Future Employment

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 employed by 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 long way towards mitigating the damage of the termination.

4. Don’t Sign an Agreement 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 on the day of termination. 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 about the Termination

Not every firing involves a wrongful termination. 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 majority of employment termination cases that we see, individuals are able to move forward with their career after termination with good planning and preparation. The odds of doing so quickly increase when a termination is handled properly by the former employee.

Contact Us

We advise and defend Virginia employees against wrongful termination. If you need legal assistance in an employment matter in Virginia, please contact our office at (703) 668-0070 or at www.berrylegal.com to schedule a consultation.

Virginia employee grievance lawyers

Our law firm represents Virginia state employees in their employment grievances filed against their individual state agencies.  Virginia has adopted an employee grievance procedure for Virginia employees to resolve their employment issues.  The Virginia Grievance Procedure has a number of steps in this process. The grievance process is administered by the Virginia Department of Human Resource Management, Division of Employment Dispute Resolution (EDR).

Starting the Grievance Process

The first step in the grievance procedure for a Virginia state employee is to prepare a written grievance over the employment problem at issue.  The employee involved must usually file a written grievance within 30 days of the date that an employee knew or should have known about the issue being grieved. This is very important. If a grievance is not filed in a timely manner, the grievance will likely be dismissed. The grievance must be submitted on what is known as Grievance Form A. If there is not enough space on Grievance Form A, attachments may be used in filing the grievance.  The first step of the grievance process is generally filed with the employee’s immediate supervisor.

The Grievance Procedure Steps

The grievance process, once initiated, generally goes through 3 separate steps in Virginia.  First, there is a First Step grievance conducted by the employee’s immediate supervisor.  If the matter is unresolved, it may proceed to a Second Resolution Step Meeting.  As opposed to the First Step, a meeting is required during the Second Step.  The Second Step is usually considered a fact finding session.  If the Second Step does not resolve the grievance, the employee may then take their grievance to the Third Step.  If the Third Step does not resolve the grievance and an employee wishes to take their grievance forward, he or she must then ask that their grievance certified for a hearing by the agency head.

In some cases, where a grievance involves a demotion, suspension without pay or any other action that results in an actual loss of wages, the employee may be able to elect the Expedited Process for grievance review.  This Expedited Process generally starts at the Second Step procedures and is reduced to a single step.  Dismissals due to formal discipline or unsatisfactory job performance usually will not go through the grievance steps, but rather proceed to the Grievance Hearing Process.

The Grievance Hearing Process

Grievances not resolved in the grievance process may or may not next move to the Grievance Hearing Process.  Please note that not all grievances are eligible for a grievance hearing.  Cases involving formal disciplinary (a written notice) actions and dismissals for unsatisfactory performance usually qualify for the hearing stage.  Other types of grievances involving adverse employment actions may also qualify for a hearing.  These can include: (1) unfair application of state/agency policies; (2) discrimination; (3) arbitrary or capricious performance evaluation; (4) retaliation for participation in the grievance process; and (5) other types of informal discipline (i.e. transfers, assignments, demotions and suspensions that are not accompanied by a formal notice by taken for disciplinary reasons).  If a grievance is deemed by an agency head not
to be eligible for a hearing, the employee may appeal that decision to EDR.

The Grievance Hearing Process consists of the appointment of a Hearing Officer, a pre-hearing conference and the formal hearing, in addition to other procedures.  During the hearing, documents will be introduced as exhibits and witnesses will be examined and cross-examined. If the grievance involves a disciplinary matter, then a state agency must prove their case by a preponderance (51%) of the evidence presented.  Following the hearing, the Hearing Officer will provide a decision in writing.  The Hearing Officer may uphold or deny the grievance.

Court Review

If the Hearing Officer rules against a party, that party can then appeal the adverse decision to the EDR or to the Virginia Department of Human Resources Management (DHRM), depending on the issue to be appealed before it is considered final.  Once the hearing decision becomes final, a party can then appeal an adverse determination to Circuit Court and from there to the Court of Appeals.  A petition can also be filed requiring implementation of the final hearing decision.

Conclusion

When a Virginia state employee files an employment grievance, it is important to obtain legal advice and legal representation. Our law firm stands ready to advise and represent Commonwealth of Virginia employees in in their state employment grievances. We can be contacted at www.berrylegal.com or by telephone at (703) 668-0070.

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.

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.

Our law firm has represented both employees and employers in Virginia in connection with employment investigations involving employee alleged misconduct. This article talks about the issues involved when an employer conducts an investigation in the workplace.

Virginia employers (and employers in other states) usually conduct workplace investigations into employee complaints because they can face legal consequences (or more severe consequences) if they do not do so. As an example, if an individual alleges sex harassment / discrimination in the workplace and the claims are not investigated, an employer can be more readily held liable by employees affected by the conduct. The same type of investigation is necessary when dealing with claims of whistleblowing or other alleged inappropriate conduct at work.

The Steps in a Workplace Investigation

The beginning of the process starts with an employee complaint about misconduct in the workplace. This can happen where the employee reports it through a supervisor or other management personnel.  Once reported, the misconduct complaint can lead to an investigation. Almost always, in most employment investigations, the employer will hire an outside law firm (or occasionally use internal attorneys) to conduct an employment investigation and will act as the investigator. Once the investigator is appointed, they will start their investigation. Keep in mind that the employer’s goal in these investigations is to minimize liability for the employer. The complaining employee may also be represented by legal counsel.

While an investigator may find an individual employee at fault, the investigator usually wants to conclude and document that there was no fault on the part of an employer. The following steps usually take place in an employer investigation:

  1. An employees files a workplace complaint;
  2. An investigator is usually hired or appointed to investigate the complaint;
  3. The investigator will review the complaint and plan for a thorough investigation;
  4. The investigator will review any documentation or emails or other evidence available to prepare for interviews;
  5. The investigator will interview the complainant or complainants about the conduct complained of;
  6. The investigator will interview the employees with knowledge of the issues in the complaint;
  7. The investigator interviews the accused employee or employees for their side of the story;
  8. The investigator conducts follow-up interviews of any witnesses as needed and ties up lose ends;
  9. The investigator issues a final report with recommendations to an employer; and
  10. The employer will take action based on the findings in the report, usually referred to as a Report of Investigation or ROI.

Results of Workplace Investigation

Once the employer’s investigation is over, the results and actions taken by the employer can vary. A formal report is usually prepared, along with recommendations on actions to be potentially taken. The investigation can result in the termination or other discipline for an accused employee. The investigation can also vindicate the accused employee. In either event, an employer must be careful in avoiding retaliation against a complaining employee, even when their complaint is found to not be justified. Each investigation is different, and different employers vary in how they handle workplace investigations. The proper handling of an employment investigation can protect employees in the workplace and also reduce employer liability.

Conclusion

If an employee or employer needs assistance with an employment investigation or other 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 or connect with us on 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.  

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.

When an employee has been accused of engaging in workplace misconduct, the employer will sometimes conduct an administrative or internal investigation. Some reasons why employers investigate employees include discrimination complaints, threats against others, safety problems, and workplace theft.  This article focuses on workplace investigations in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Importance of Workplace Investigations

When serious allegations arise in the Virginia workplace, it is very important for an employer to retain a neutral and knowledgable investigator.  This is especially so with respect to sexual harassment allegations, where such action can be required.  Employers are faced with numerous legal risks if they do not conduct an investigation or otherwise fail to adequately investigate the behavior of their employees. For instance, in addition to sexual harassment and discrimination claims, other claims for negligent hiring and retention are being brought in larger numbers.  As a result, employers conduct investigations far more regularly in Virginia than they have in the past.

Purpose of Workplace Investigations

The purpose of workplace investigations is for an employer to gather relevant evidence regarding the employee’s alleged misconduct and determine whether the misconduct warrants a disciplinary or an adverse action (e.g., termination or significant suspension) within the requirements established by law, policy, or regulation or with respect to the employer’s own liability.

Occasionally, these types of investigations can lead to a potential criminal investigation. Depending on whether the employer is federal, Virginia or involves a private employer, a supervisor or other designated investigator may be asked to conduct an investigation regarding the facts at issue. Employees may then be asked to provide verbal or written responses to questions regarding the alleged misconduct.

Hiring an Investigator

Once a workplace investigation is required, the next step is for the employer to identify who will conduct the investigation as the investigator.  Government employers generally have their own investigators (e.g. Inspector General)  and merely assign one or two investigators to a case to evaluate the conduct of employees.  However, in the private sector (which covers the vast majority of employees) an investigator must be hired to conduct the investigation. This task is often completed by hiring a law firm and designating an attorney to conduct the administrative investigation.  Many law firms conduct these types of investigations.  Our firm typically represents employees that are under investigation and where the employer seeks to question them in conjunction with an investigation.

Employee Duties to Cooperate

During an investigation, an investigator (i.e. the law firm) will be hired to conduct a workplace investigation. They will review documents (e.g. complaints, emails, documents) related to the investigation and/or interview witnesses, depending on the breadth of the investigation.  Employees, depending on their particular employer, may have a duty to fully cooperate with an assigned investigator or can decline to participate in the investigation unless they are ordered to do so.

For example, federal employees may decline to participate in an administrative investigation if it is voluntary. Refusing to cooperate with an investigation or providing false statements or answers during an investigation can be grounds for disciplinary action. Providing false statements, if made to a federal or other law enforcement investigator, can also subject an employee to potential criminal penalties. For private sector employees in Virginia, not cooperating in an employment investigation can lead to disciplinary action or termination in some cases.

Employer Risks in Not Conducting Investigations

Internal or administrative investigations can also involve risks for the employer. If claims are made by employees, inadequate workplace investigations may raise questions regarding the accuracy of the results or whether the employee was treated fairly. In addition, the employer may not like what the investigation uncovers and will have an obligation to resolve or address issues, such as a systemic problem or legal impropriety. Additionally, as mentioned above, if an investigation is not undertaken an employer can be potentially liable for their negligence of complicity in not addressing the workplace issues.

Consider Legal Advice if Serious

Prior to providing information to an employer, depending on the severity of the issues under investigation, it can be important for an employee to discuss with an attorney the issues associated with the information being sought by the employer and the employee’s role in the matter being investigated. An attorney familiar with administrative or internal investigations can provide legal advice to assist an employee in preparation for responding to questions about his or her actions in the matter being investigated. In addition, an attorney, in many circumstances, can often accompany the employee during any investigative interviews.

Conclusion

If you need assistance with issues related to an administrative investigation in the workplace or other employment law 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 our Facebook page.
If you wish to explore legal representation, please call our office or use this form to inquire about our consultation process.

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