Virginia Adds Teeth to its Wage Theft Law
Earlier this year, the State of Virginia amended its labor code to give real teeth to its wage theft law. Prior to the amendments, wage theft by employers in Virginia was prosecuted by state labor agencies and recovery was limited to the stolen wages and prejudgment interest. The old version of the law failed to punish employers that did not properly pay wages that were due. As such, Virginia employees were often victimized and without proper recourse to recover their wrongfully withheld wages.
Under the amended wage theft law in Virginia, signed in April 2020, Virginia employers now have reason to fear substantial legal and financial consequences for stealing wages. Among the most significant changes are these:
- Virginia Workers now have what is called a “private right of action,” that is, workers can file lawsuits directly against their employers seeking to recover unpaid wages through the court system
- Workers who succeed in recovering unpaid wages can recover their attorneys fees, that is, employers will be required, potentially, to pay the attorney’s fees of workers who sue
- In addition to money damages paid to workers, employers can also be assessed a civil penalty of $1,000 per violation (payable to the state)
- Workers are now able to recover treble damages if the wage theft was done “knowingly” — “knowingly” is defined as having actual knowledge, willful blindness or reckless disregard
- Workers are now protected from retaliation by their bosses if they report wage theft or file a lawsuit against their employer for unpaid wages; claims of retaliation, however, can only be filed administratively
- With respect to construction workers, the General Contractor (“GC”) will now be considered the “employer” if the GC knew or had reason to know that a subcontractor was stealing wages; this means workers can sue the GC for wage theft and the GC will be jointly and severally liable under the new law
In addition, the Virginia labor agencies have been given expanded powers. Previously, the labor agencies were limited to investigating individual complaints that were filed by workers. Now, investigations can be expanded beyond an individual worker to suspected wage theft violations with respect to any and all employees at a given workplace. The labor regulators can expand an investigation where evidence is uncovered that creates a “reasonable belief” that wage theft is more widespread than just the reported incident described in the complaint. Furthermore, the investigation can be expanded both to other employees in the workplace and to other potential labor violations concerning the worker who filed the initiating complaint.
Finally, the new law enhances potential criminal penalties for wage theft where the theft was done “willfully and with the intent to defraud.” This is a higher standard than “knowingly.” Employers who intentionally steal wages can be found guilty of a misdemeanor (for amounts less than $10,000) and for a felony (for amounts higher than $10,000). A misdemeanor conviction carries a potential jail term of up to 12 months; a felony conviction can result in a jail term of more than a year. The new law does create a new exception for potential criminal liability where the failure to pay wages is based on a legitimate legal dispute between the employer and the worker.
Call the Wage Attorneys at Herrmann Law
For more information, call the Employee Rights attorneys at Herrmann law. We are proven, experienced, employee-focused attorneys representing workers across the United States in all types of workplace disputes. Use our Online Contact page or call us at (817) 479-9229.