The overwhelming majority of people who work do so for the purpose of being paid. While having a rewarding career and making enough money to support oneself are not mutually exclusive, wages are what keep most employees coming back to work every day. Being paid for one’s work seems like a straightforward concept, but complexities and disagreements can and do arise between employers and employees. Underpaying employees can cause significant hardships for the employees and expose employers to consequences. A Norfolk employment lawyer can help both employees and employers ensure that their pay practices are fair and within the bounds of the law.
What Is Wage Theft?
The concept of wage theft has increasingly entered the public consciousness over the last few years. Wage theft occurs when an employer fails to pay an employee the wages to which they are entitled. It can take several forms, such as:
- Direct wage theft (i.e., refusing to pay employees)
- Failing to pay employees overtime wages
- Misclassifying employees as exempt to avoid paying them overtime
- Misclassifying employees as independent contractors to avoid paying them minimum wage
- Taking unnecessary, excessive, or illegal deductions from an employee’s pay
- Failing to pay employees any remaining wages due to them after termination
- Denying employees meal breaks
- Requiring employees to work off-the-clock
- Confiscating tips from tipped employees
While direct wage theft is rare, other more insidious forms of it are unfortunately common. It is estimated to affect about 2.4 million workers per year, costing them about $8 billion annually. While concerns about wage theft are most pronounced among low-income and minimum-wage workers, its effects can be felt across the socioeconomic spectrum.
Wage theft in Virginia is also illegal; an employer who willfully and with intent to defraud fails or refuses to pay wages may be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor or a Class 6 felony, depending on the circumstances.
Virginia’s Wage and Hour Laws
The minimum wage in Virginia as of the date of publication is the greater of (1) $12.00 per hour or (2) the federal minimum wage. (The federal minimum wage as of the date of publication is $7.25 per hour, making the Virginia minimum wage $12.00.) Virginia is one of several states that changes its minimum wage every year. Beginning on January 1, 2025, the minimum wage will increase to $13.50 per hour. On January 1, 2026, it will increase to $15.00 per hour. On January 1, 2027, and every year thereafter, the minimum wage will increase by a set percentage to be determined on October 1 of the previous year. That amount is the “adjusted state hourly minimum wage,” which is the sum of the minimum wage on October 1 of the prior year plus a percentage of that amount that is equal to the percentage by which the United States Average Consumer Price Index has increased during the most recent year. In other words, the minimum wage will be tied to inflation.
Not all Virginia employees are covered by the VMWA. Some notable exceptions include:
- Farm laborers
- Domestic servants
- Newspaper deliverers
- Shoe shiners
- Golf course caddies
- Concession attendants
- Theater cashiers
- Taxi drivers
- Salespersons working on commission
- Summer camp employees
- Employees who are paid based on the amount of work they do
- Employees who are under 16
- Employees who are 65 or older
If you do not fall into one of these categories but are nonetheless being paid less than minimum wage, you should consider speaking to a Norfolk employment lawyer.
Overtime pay regulations in Virginia are governed by the Virginia Overtime Wage Act (VOWA), which generally mirrors the FLSA. Under the VOWA and the FLSA, overtime is available for non-exempt employees — generally employees who work on an hourly basis. Overtime pay is at least one-half times the employee’s regular rate for any hours worked in excess of 40 hours in any one work week.
Exempt employees generally fall into the following categories:
- Salaried executive, administrative, and professional employees
- Commissioned sales employees
- Farm workers
- Computer professionals
- Highly compensated employees
Frequency and Method of Pay
Employers in Virginia are required to establish regular pay periods and pay rates for their employees. Salaried employees must be paid at least once a month, while hourly employees must be paid at least once every two weeks or twice per month. Payment of wages must be in lawful United States money in one of the following forms:
- Automatic money transfer
- Credit to a prepaid debit card from which the employee is able to withdraw or transfer funds
On each pay date, employers are required to provide employees with a statement that shows (1) the name and address of the employer, (2) the number of hours worked in the pay period, (3) the rate of pay, (4) the gross wages, and (5) the amount and purpose of any deductions therefrom.
Former employees in Virginia are entitled to all of their earned wages, even if they no longer work for the employer. However, employers sometimes attempt to avoid paying former employees their final paycheck. Virginia law requires employers to pay terminated employees all wages or salaries due to them for work performed prior to termination. Such payments must be made on or before the date on which the employee would have been paid had his or her employment not been terminated. While some states require employers to pay terminated employees the monetary value of their unused vacation and sick leave, Virginia is not among them.
Get Paid What You Are Owed With Help From a Norfolk Employment Lawyer
Wage theft causes employees billions of dollars in losses every year. While it can seem intimidating to pursue legal action against a current or former employer, you do not have to do it alone. For more information, please contact a Norfolk employment lawyer at Pierce / McCoy by calling 757-304-6655 or using our online contact form.