The number of disputes that can arise between employees and employers on a daily basis is staggering. The law attempts to balance the interests of employees and employers, and one of the ways it does this is by outlining employee rights. Such rights protect employees while setting clear, predictable rules for employers. Virginia employees have rights under various federal and commonwealth laws, which our Norfolk employment lawyers explain below.
The Right to Wages
Wages are the foundation of employment. While everyone wants to work a rewarding career, the basic fact of the matter is that the vast majority of people who work do so because they need to work for a living. As such, all employees in Virginia have a right to be paid for their labor. Employers are required to establish regular pay rates and intervals for all employees. For salaried employees, the pay interval must be at least once a month. For hourly employees, the pay period must be at least once every two weeks or twice in each month. Deductions for any reason other than taxes are prohibited without the employee’s written authorization.
The minimum wage in Virginia is governed by the Virginia Minimum Wage Act. As of the date of publication, the minimum wage is $12.00 per hour and is set to increase every year thereafter. The exception to this rule is tipped employees (those who make over $30 each month in tips), for whom the minimum wage as of the date of publication is $2.13.
Overtime wages are governed by the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which requires employees to receive overtime pay of one and a half times their regular rate of pay for hours worked in excess of 40 per week. Employees who do not receive such overtime pay may pursue a private right of action against their employers. Damages available to employees include payment of all wages due plus interest at an annual rate of 8% from the date the wages were due.
The Right to Proper Classification
Employee classification may not sound like a major issue in employment law, but a worker’s classification as “employee/independent contractor” or “exempt/non-exempt” can have major implications.
Workers who are classified as employees generally have taxes withheld from their wages, are eligible for workplace benefits (such as health insurance), and may receive workers’ compensation benefits if they are injured on the job. By contrast, independent contractors are entitled to none of those benefits or protections. Whether a worker is considered an employee or independent contractor is determined according to the facts of each case, but Virginia law presumes that any individual who performs services for an employer for remuneration is an employee unless the individual or his or her employer demonstrates otherwise. Employers who are found to have misclassified workers are subject to civil penalties of up to $5,000 per misclassified individual.
Employee misclassification also arises in the context of overtime payment. Generally, employees who are exempt from the FLSA’s overtime payment requirements (such as many salaried employees) are not required to be paid overtime, while those who are not exempt from them are entitled to overtime in accordance with the act’s provisions. It is not uncommon for employers to misclassify non-exempt employees as exempt employees to avoid paying them overtime.
The Right to Be Free From Discrimination and Harassment
One of the most high-profile employee rights issues in recent years has been the right to be free from discrimination and harassment. While employees enjoy a variety of federal and commonwealth legal protections from discrimination and harassment in the workplace, such cases can be difficult to prove. That’s why you should consider speaking to a Norfolk employment lawyer if you believe you have suffered discrimination or harassment at work.
Workplace discrimination occurs when an employer takes an adverse employment action against an employee on the basis of protected characteristics. In Virginia, such protected characteristics include race, color, religion, national origin, sex, pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, age, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, or military status. The Virginia Human Rights Act prohibits such discrimination and creates a private cause of action for employees who believe they have been unlawfully discriminated against. Employees who can prove unlawful discrimination are entitled to both compensatory and punitive damages.
Workplace harassment generally refers to unwanted sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. It can include both quid pro quo harassment and hostile work environment harassment. Contrary to popular belief, both women and men can be the victims of workplace harassment. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits such behavior, as does the Virginia Human Rights Act. Damages for employee victims of sexual harassment can include both compensatory and punitive damages.
The Right to Be Free from Retaliation
Employees in Virginia have a multitude of rights, but such rights are illusory if employees are afraid to enforce them. Accordingly, one of the most important rights employees have is the right to be free from retaliation. Employment retaliation occurs when an employer takes an adverse action against an employee for exercising a statutory right. Such rights include whistleblowing, reporting violations of laws or policies, assisting in the investigation of alleged violations of laws or polices, refusing orders to perform actions that violate laws or policies, and refusing to participate in criminal behavior.
The Right to Certain Types of Leave
Virginia employees have the right to certain types of leaves of absence and accommodations. While employees are not required to be paid for this leave, they may not be subject to adverse employment action for using it, nor may they be compelled to use sick leave or vacation time to cover their absence. Such types of leave include:
- Jury duty and court appearance leave
- Election official leave
- Military leave
- Crime victim leave
- Leave under the Americans With Disabilities Act
- Leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act
Contact a Norfolk Employment Lawyer for More Information
The scope of employee protection law is vast, and these are only a few examples of its reach. For more specific information about the rights of employees in Virginia, please contact a Norfolk employment lawyer at Pierce / McCoy by calling 757-304-6655 or using our online contact form.