Employee Leave for Virginia Employees

By John V. Berry, Esq., www.berrylegal.com

The following is an article on leave laws and rules that cover Virginia employees. Leave issues generally tend to come up either during the course of an employee’s employment or immediately following the end of an individual’s employment. Leave laws and regulations also vary by the type of employer and jurisdiction of the employer. For instance, federal, state, county and private sector employers have different laws and rules governing leave.

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Tips for Virginia Employees in Wrongful Termination and Discrimination Cases

By Kimberly H. Berry, Esq., www.berrylegal.com

The following are 6 employment tips that can be helpful when an employee in Virginia is facing significant employment issues like termination, discrimination or retaliation.

Six Employment Tips to Consider 

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Severance Agreements in Virginia

By Kimberly H. Berry, Esq., www.berrylegal.com

In Virginia, most employees are considered “at will,” which generally means they can be terminated or resign at any time. Even if they are “at will,” when an employee’s employment ends, an employer may offer severance to an employee in exchange for the employee’s waiver of his / her rights, including the right to file suit for any work-related issues. In Virginia, in the absence of an employment contract, an employer usually has no obligation to provide an employee severance pay. If severance pay is offered, an employer will almost always provide the employee with a severance agreement. It is important to obtain legal advice before signing such an agreement.

What is a Severance Agreement?

In Virginia, a severance agreement is a contract between an employee and an employer that specifies the terms of an employment departure. Severance agreements can be offered in cases of terminations, resignations, layoffs and/or retirement. They may be available in other types of situations as well. In order for a severance agreement to be valid, it must usually provide something of value to the employee to which the employee is not already entitled. For example, in most cases, a certain financial sum is provided to the departing employee by an employer in exchange for a waiver of rights, usually referred to as a general release, by the employee.

Additionally, in Virginia and many other states, employers are generally required to provide an employee time to consider a severance agreement before signing. The Older Workers Benefit Protection Act (OWBPA), in part, requires that an employer provide employees over 40 years of age with a 21-day consideration period, or a 45-day consideration period in the case of a large reduction-in-force (RIF), and at least a 7-day revocation period. Oftentimes, employers rush employees to sign a severance agreement and do not adhere to the procedures for severance agreements. The terms of a severance agreement are generally negotiable between the employer and employee. However, an employee will not necessarily be told this when the employer offers the severance agreement.

Considerations in Negotiating Severance Agreements

Some of the issues to consider in advance of signing a severance agreement may include, but are not limited to, the following:

Financial terms and timing of severance payments

Tax consequences

Non-disparagement clauses

Re-employment/re-hiring possibilities for departing employee

Continuation of employment benefits (i.e. health)

Unemployment compensation issues

Which claims are waived

Confidentiality terms

Scope of non-competition after leaving employment

Preservation of trade secrets

References and points of contact for prospective employers

Recommendation letters

Consequences of violating the severance agreement

Each severance case is different and an employee may need legal representation in negotiating a severance agreement. Before an employee signs a severance agreement, he or she should consult with an attorney to discuss the rights that he or she may be waiving and the terms of the severance agreement.

Conclusion

If you need assistance with negotiating a severance agreement in Virginia, please contact our office at 703-668-0070 or at www.berrylegal.com to schedule a consultation. Please also like and visit us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/BerryBerryPllc.

Where to File Discrimination and Harassment Complaints in Virginia

By John V. Berry, www.berrylegal.com

We often are asked by employees about their options for filing a discrimination or harassment complaint in Virginia. The answer is that it depends on many factors. For private, federal and other public sector employees in Virginia there are a number of options for filing a complaint of discrimination, sexual harassment, retaliation and/or an ongoing hostile work environment. The proper place for filing the complaint depends on a number of factors, including what type of employee you are, the type of discrimination, where you live, and your type of employer. When considering filing this type of complaint it is generally important to consult an attorney to determine the best forum in which to file your complaint. Additionally, it is important to note that where there is more than one option for filing a discrimination or harassment complaint that it is important to get legal advice on the best option given the facts of a particular case.

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Virginia Severance Agreements

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By Kimberly H. Berry, Esq., www.berrylegal.com

Employees in Virginia are generally considered “at will,” which means they can resign
and/or be terminated at any time. When employment ends, an employer may offer a severance package to an employee in exchange for the employee’s waiver of rights. However, employers, in the absence of an agreement or severance policy, generally have no obligation to provide employees severance pay. If severance pay is offered, an employer will offer the employee a Severance Agreement.

What are Severance Agreements?

A Severance Agreement is a contract between the employee and an employer that provides the terms of the end of employment between the employer and the employee. Severance Agreements may also be offered to employees who are laid off or facing retirement. In addition, depending on the circumstances, a Severance Agreement may be offered to an employee who resigns or is terminated. The Severance Agreement must have something of value (also referred to as consideration) to which the employee is not already entitled. Employers are generally required to provide an employee time to consider the Severance Agreement before signing.

An employee usually has a 21-day consideration period to accept and at least a 7-day revocation period to revoke an employer’s Severance Agreement if the employee is over 40 years of age. For a group or class of employees (i.e., two or more employees) age 40 or over, employers must provide a 45-day consideration period and at least a 7-day revocation period.

Commonly Considered Terms

Items and/or terms that the employer and employee may place in these agreements include:

• Financial terms, tax issues and timing of severance payments

• Continuation of employment benefits (i.e. health, etc.)

• Issues related to unemployment compensation

• References (positive, neutral)

• Claims to be waived (i.e. discrimination, etc.)

• Confidentiality

• Non-Disparagement

• Re-hiring potential

• Scope of possible non-competition

• Preservation of trade secrets

• Recommendation letters

• Consequences of violating the agreement

Severance Agreements will also usually include a general release or waiver that requires that the employee cannot sue his or her employer for wrongful termination or attempt to seek unemployment benefits upon the effective date of a fully executed Severance Agreement.

Conclusion

Before an employee signs a Severance Agreement, he or she should consult with an attorney to discuss the rights that he or she may be waiving and the terms of the Severance Agreement. If you need assistance with a Severance Agreement or other employment matter, please contact our office at (703) 668-0070 or at www.berrylegal.com to schedule a consultation. Please also visit and like us on Facebook.

White House Proposes Changes to Non-Compete Agreements to States (including Virginia)

By Kimberly Berry, Esq., www.berrylegal.com

The White House recently asked states to enact legislation banning non-compete agreements for low-wage workers in an effort to increase competition and improve the economy. In a White House report issued on October 25, 2016, it explained that these types of agreements often prevent out-of-work employees from finding new jobs in their career fields. The White House also stated that these non-compete agreements interfere with worker mobility.

A non-compete agreement typically bars an employee from working for a competitor or starting his or her own business once the employee leaves the employer. The White House report cited the fact that 20 percent of U.S. workers have signed non-compete agreements preventing them from working for competitors. The figure included an approximate 17 percent of employees who do not hold a college degree. Virginia is in the majority of states that current permits non-compete agreements to exist.  A minority of states have banned them as anti-competitive.

Proposed Changes to Non-Compete Agreements

The White House is requesting that states pass bans on non-compete agreements for workers who do not possess trade secrets. Additionally, the White House is asking that states require companies to be more transparent about contracts. The three principal recommendations in the White House report on state changes to non-compete agreements include:

1. Enact State Bans on Non-Compete Clauses for Certain Categories of Workers: (1) workers under a certain wage threshold; (2) workers in certain occupations involving public health and safety; (3) workers who are unlikely to possess trade secrets; or (4) those who may suffer undue adverse impacts from non-competes, such as workers laid off or terminated without cause.

2. Improvement in Transparency and Fairness: of non-compete agreements by, for example, disallowing non-competes unless they are proposed before a job offer or significant promotion has been accepted (because an applicant who has accepted an offer and declined other positions may have less bargaining power); providing consideration over and above continued employment for workers who sign non-compete agreements; or encouraging employers to better inform workers about the law in their state and the existence of non-competes in contracts and how they work.

3. Provide Incentives to Employers: to write enforceable contracts, and encourage the elimination of unenforceable provisions by, for example, promoting the use of the “red pencil doctrine,” which renders contracts with unenforceable provisions void in their entirety. Virginia currently follows this approach.

These proposed changes are hopefully raising more awareness regarding the issue of arbitrary and meaningless overuse of certain non-compete agreements. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon to see lower wage-earning employees being forced to sign unnecessary and overly restrictive non-compete agreements. However, there have been some positive developments, and three states have already enacted changes to non-compete agreements, including California, Oklahoma, Illinois and North Dakota.

Virginia Non-Compete Agreements

In Virginia, it is likely that there will be discussions about further limiting the scope of non-compete agreements in the future given the overuse of such agreements.  The general history for non-compete agreements in Virginia has been that they were disfavored at law, but permitted under certain circumstances.  The problem that the legislature will have to eventually take on eventually is whether they should bar non-compete agreements for workers earning lower wages and those who do not truly have access to proprietary information.

Conclusion

Our firm represents Virginia employees regarding employment matters and non-compete agreements. We can be contacted at www.berrylegal.com or by telephone at (703) 668-0070. Our Facebook page can be found at Berry & Berry Facebook Page.

Final Paychecks Owed to Former Employees in Virginia

By John V. Berry, Esq.,www.berrylegal.com

In the Commonwealth of Virginia former employees are entitled to all of their previously earned wages, even if they are terminated from their employment. However, for various reasons sometimes employers attempt to avoid paying an employee their last paycheck. There are many reasons that this occurs. However, the nonpayment of wages owed can cause significant hardship for an employee and can be a costly mistake for an employer. There are laws and regulations that govern the issues related to the nonpayment of wages in the Commonwealth of Virginia at the state and federal levels.

When Last Paychecks are Due

An employer generally should pay a former employee’s final paycheck by the next pay period as it would be regularly due.  Some state laws vary on this issue, but failure to make prompt payment can violate a number of wage and overtime laws on a state and federal level.  State wage laws can cover non-payment and federal laws, such as the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), can cover non-payment of overtime.

Virginia Wage Law

The Virginia Code § 40.1-29 provides that final payments to a terminated employee should be made on or before the employee would have normally been paid had the employee not been terminated. The Virginia Code imposes civil and criminal penalties for nonpayment of wages by an employer. The Virginia Code further prohibits employers from deducting portions of a final payment without the former employee’s consent with the exception of standard taxes and withholdings.

A number of state vary on the issue of whether an employee is entitled to receive accrued vacation or sick leave upon an employee’s departure. Virginia has taken the approach that fringe benefits such as vacation/annual/holiday leave, sick leave or severance pay are not required to be paid out by a former employer under the law. In addition, Virginia employers may establish any policy or no policy regarding fringe benefits at the termination of an employee.

If an employee in Virginia is confronted with nonpayment of final wages, the employee can contact the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry. The Virginia Department of Labor and Industry may assist an employee in obtaining payment of final wages after the employee files a complaint, but it does not handle claims for wages over the amount of $15,000.  Additionally, the failure to pay wages can be pursued in the court system.

Federal Wage Law

The FLSA is a federal law which governs the payment of overtime to employees.  When an employer does not make timely payment of a final check which includes overtime, there could be a FLSA violation which could be costly for an employer in terms of damages. If the payment of lost wages involves unpaid overtime, the United States Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division may be contacted and an investigation may be initiated for FLSA overtime violations by the former employer. Additionally, the failure to pay overtime can also be pursued in court.

Conclusion

We represent employees and employers in regards to non-payment of wage cases.  If you need legal assistance, please contact our office at (703) 668-0070 or at www.berrylegal.com to schedule a consultation.  Please also visit and like us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/BerryBerryPllc.