Virginia Governor Signs New Laws to Expand Employee Protections

Throughout the month of April, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam has signed four important new laws to support employees in Virginia, including legislation to increase protections for whistleblowers and LGBTQ workers and against wage theft.

Virginia Values Act

On April 11, 2020, Governor Northam signed the Virginia Values Act (SB 868). The passage of this legislation makes Virginia the first state in the South to enact comprehensive protections for the LGBTQ community. SB 868 prohibits discrimination in public accommodations and public and private employment on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, or status as a veteran. It also prohibits discrimination in credit on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions, disability, and veteran status. Lastly, the Virginia Values Act prohibits discrimination in housing based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and status as a veteran. 

Whistleblower Protection Law

Governor Northam also signed HB 798 on April 11, 2020, which prohibits an employer from discharging, disciplining, threatening, discriminating, penalizing, or taking other retaliatory action against an employee because the employee:

  • reported a violation of any federal or state law or regulation to a supervisor or to any governmental body or law-enforcement official;
  • is requested by a governmental body or law-enforcement official to participate in an investigation, hearing, or inquiry;
  • refused to engage in a criminal act that would subject the employee to criminal liability;
  • refused an employer’s order to perform an action that violates any federal or state law or regulation and the employee informs the employer that the order is being refused for that reason; or
  • provided information to or testified before any governmental body or law-enforcement official conducting an investigation, hearing, or inquiry into any alleged violation by the employer of federal or state law or regulation.

Prior to the enactment of HB 798, Virginia law offered very limited protection for whistleblowers, and thus the passage of this bill is a significant step forward for whistleblower rights in Virginia.

Combatting Wage Theft

On April 8, 2020, Governor Northam signed HB 123, which gives an employee the ability to file a lawsuit against an employer who fails to pay wages. Before this new law, employees in Virginia lacked the protection they needed to hold an employer accountable when it failed to pay an employee’s earned wages. Now, if a court finds that the employer knowingly failed to pay wages to an employee, the court can order the employer to pay the employee’s wages, and award the employee reasonable attorneys’ fees and other costs, and an amount to the employee that is equal to triple the amount of the wages due.

On April 9, 2020, Governor Northam also signed HB 337/SB 48. This legislation prohibits an employer from firing or otherwise discriminating against employees because they have filed a complaint or participated in a proceeding related to the employer’s failure to pay wages.

All of the above legislation will become effective on July 1, 2020.