RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam has signed nearly two dozen new laws to support working Virginians, including legislation to combat worker misclassification and wage theft, ban workplace discrimination, and prohibit non-compete covenants for low-wage workers.
The Governor proposes to increase the minimum wage starting May 1, 2021, and to advance prevailing wage, collective bargaining, and project labor agreement legislation then as well. This will ensure workers get the support they need while allowing greater economic certainty in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In addition, Governor Northam is proposing amendments to prohibit apprenticeship discrimination on the basis of gender identity and to create a work-sharing program to support workers impacted by COVID-19.
Governor Northam signed the following bills:
Combatting Worker Misclassification
- House Bill 1407 and Senate Bill 744, sponsored by Delegate Jeion Ward and Senator Jeremey McPike, respectively, authorize the Department of Taxation to oversee investigations into suspected cases of worker misclassification and levy penalties as appropriate. A 2012 report of the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) estimated that at least 214,000 Virginians were misclassified as “independent contractors” by their employers.
- House Bill 984 and Senate Bill 894, sponsored by Delegate Karrie Delaney and Senate Majority Leader Richard L. Saslaw, respectively, create a private cause of action for a misclassified worker to bring civil action for damages against his or her employer.
- House Bill 1199 and Senate Bill 662, sponsored by Delegate Kathy Tran and Senator Jennifer Boysko, respectively, protect employees or independent contractors who report misclassification from employer retaliation. Employers that are found to have engaged in retaliatory action will be subject to a civil penalty up to the value of the employee’s lost wages.
- House Bill 1646, sponsored by Delegate Paul Krizek, requires contractors to properly classify all workers as employees or independent contractors. This law gives the Board of Contractors the ability to sanction contractors who are found to have intentionally misclassified workers.
Banning Workplace Discrimination
- House Bill 827 and Senate Bill 712, sponsored by Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy and Senator Jennifer McClellan, respectively, protect workers from discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. This law prohibits pregnancy discrimination, requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for pregnancy and childbirth, and creates a private cause of action for workplace pregnancy discrimination.
- House Bill 1049, sponsored by Delegate Mark Levine, prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in a number of areas of law, including employment, public contracting, and apprenticeship programs.
Combatting Wage Theft
- House Bill 123, sponsored by Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy, creates a private cause of action for workers to recover unpaid wages lost to wage theft. If a court finds an employer has knowingly failed to pay an employee’s wages, the court may award the employee reasonable attorneys’ fees in addition to triple the amount of wages due.
- Senate Bill 838, sponsored by Senator Adam Ebbin, creates a private cause of action for workers to recover unpaid wages. Additionally, this new law makes general contractors liable and subject to penalty for wage theft, under certain conditions.
- House Bill 336 and Senate Bill 49, sponsored by Delegate Marcia Price and Senator Lionell Spruill, respectively, give the Department of Labor and Industry expanded authority in investigating wage theft complaints.
- House Bill 337 and Senate Bill 48, sponsored by Delegate Marcia Price and Senator Lionell Spruill, respectively, protect employees who report wage theft or institute proceedings against their employer from retaliation.
Additional Worker Projections
- House Bill 330 and Senate Bill 480, sponsored by Delegate Schuyler VanValkenburg and Senator Bill DeSteph, respectively, prohibit employers from entering into a non-compete contract with any of their low-wage employees. This new law also creates a private cause of action for a low-wage employee to bring a lawsuit against an employer who tries to enforce a non-compete covenant.
- House Bill 798, sponsored by Delegate Karrie Delaney, protects workers from retaliation from their employer for reporting violations or suspected violations of state law.
- House Bill 1201 and Senate Bill 380, sponsored by Delegate Kathy Tran and Senator Jeremy McPike, respectively, allow localities to include criteria in their “invitation to bid” to determine whether a bidder who is not prequalified by the Virginia Department of Transportation is a responsible bidder. This new law will support workers and help local contractors find the best trained and safest workers for their projects.
Governor Northam proposes amendments to these bills:
- Senate Bill 548, sponsored by Senator John Edwards, addresses qualifications for unemployment insurance. In light of the current economic crisis, Governor Northam amended this legislation to authorize a work-sharing program in Virginia. Work-sharing programs can help businesses avoid laying off their employees by permitting them to reduce their employees’ hours and allow affected employees to collect reduced unemployment benefits in the form of short-time compensation. The federal CARES Act offers funding incentives for states to build work-sharing programs of this sort.
- House Bill 1252, sponsored by Delegate Don Scott, prohibits a sponsor of a registered apprenticeship program from discriminating against an apprentice or applicant on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, age (if older than 40), genetic information, or disability. Governor Northam amended this legislation to also include protections from discrimination on the basis of gender identity.
- House Bill 395 and Senate Bill 7, sponsored by Delegate Jeion Ward and Senate Majority Leader Richard L. Saslaw, respectively, raise the minimum wage. Under the Governor’s amendments, the minimum wage would increase beginning May 1, 2021.
- House Bill 833 and Senate Bill 8, sponsored by Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy and Senate Majority Leader Richard L. Saslaw, respectively, address payment of “prevailing wages” by contractors doing business with certain government bodies. Under the Governor’s amendments, this law would take effect May 1, 2021.
- House Bill 582 and Senate Bill 939, sponsored by Delegate Elizabeth Guzman and Senate Majority Leader Richard L. Saslaw, respectively, permit localities to enter into collective bargaining agreements with local employees. Under the Governor’s amendments, this law would take effect May 1, 2021.
- House Bill 358 and Senate Bill 182, sponsored by Delegate Alfonso Lopez and Senate Majority Leader Richard L. Saslaw, respectively, authorize state and local bodies to require project labor agreements for construction, manufacture, maintenance, or operation of public works. Under the Governor’s amendments, this law would take effect May 1, 2021.
House Republican Leader Todd Gilbert issued the following statement:
“We are squarely in the middle of an unprecedented health and financial crisis. The hundreds of thousands of Virginians who have filed for unemployment and the businesses that employed them are going to be digging out of this financial hole well past May 1, 2021. The actions taken by the Governor fail to provide long-term certainty for Virginia’s businesses and their employees. A thirty-one percent increase to operating costs — plus a 25 percent hike in power bills — would be tough in a great economy, they will be potentially devastating as Virginia looks to rebuild.”