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.

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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.

Reasonable Accommodations for Virginia Employees

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

RAWe are often asked about reasonable accommodations by employees in Virginia when they develop a medical condition that requires a change in
their duties or other adjustments. We advise private, federal, state and county sector employees in Virginia this regard. The reasonable accommodation process applies to both employees and job applicants in all states including the Commonwealth of Virginia.

What is a Reasonable Accommodation?

The usual first question that comes up is what is a reasonable accommodation?  A reasonable accommodation is an employee’s request to modify their employment conditions, assignments, hours, etc. in order to allow them to continue working in a position despite a disability. Most employees are covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) which covers reasonable accommodations. Federal employees are covered under the Rehabilitation Act which is very similar to the ADA. According to these laws, employers are required to engage in the reasonable accommodation process to qualified employees unless it would create an undue hardship for them. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and other civil rights governmental entities enforce reasonable accommodation matters.

In the Commonwealth of Virginia, employees are also covered under the Virginians with Disabilities Act which applies to all employers. Under both the federal and state laws, the goal of the reasonable accommodation process is to enable a qualified employee with a disability the opportunity to enjoy an equal opportunity in employment.

How Does an Individual Request a Reasonable Accommodation?

A request for reasonable accommodation can be formal or informal. Some employers have created specific forms covering reasonable accommodation requests and others simply involve verbal discussions between the employee and their immediate supervisor. The most typical reasonable accommodation involves an employee that has developed a medical condition or disability that requires some modifications or adjustments to their working arrangements. Usually, an employee will ask for a reasonable accommodation by approaching their supervisor or Human Resources department, depending on the employer and asking for one. Once requested, there is usually a discussion about the reasonable accommodation requested.

The Interactive Process

The reasonable accommodation discussion between an employer and employee is often called the “interactive process” which simply means that the employer must engage the employee in attempting to resolve the reasonable accommodation request. The interactive process does not mean that an employer has to grant every accommodation sought, or even the specific one requested. The employer is required to give a reasonable effort at resolving the reasonable accommodation at issue.

Examples of Reasonable Accommodations

The following are some examples of reasonable accommodation requests. There are far too many to list, but the following are examples.

Example A: An employee develops carpal tunnel syndrome and needs a new keyboard because their current keyboard is aggravating their condition. A request for a new keyboard is a request for a reasonable accommodation.

Example B: An employee is undergoing medical treatment in the morning for epilepsy. He informs his supervisor that he needs an adjustment in his starting time so that he can take his medication in the morning before starting work. This is a request for a reasonable accommodation.

Example C: An employee develops a heart condition and needs to take daily breaks at a certain time in order to take their medication. A request to take breaks in order to take medication is a reasonable accommodation.

Example D: An employee develops a disability that causes them to be unable to perform the duties of their position. An employee’s request for reassignment is a request for reasonable accommodation.

There are far too many examples of reasonable accommodations to list here, as they vary based on an employee’s specific medical condition and needs.  Additional examples of reasonable accommodations for specific conditions can be found here.

Conclusion

When a Virginia employee is in need of a reasonable accommodation, it is important to obtain legal advice and legal representation. Our law firm stands ready to advise and represent Commonwealth of Virginia employees in the reasonable accommodation process. We can be contacted at www.berrylegal.com or by telephone at (703) 668-0070.  We can also be seen on Facebook at Berry & Berry, PLLC Facebook Page.

Virginia Grievance Procedure for State Employees

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

2012 Grievance Form A

Our law firm represents Virginia state employees in their employment grievances filed against their individual state agencies.  Virginia has adopted an employee grievance procedure for Virginia employees to resolve their employment issues.  The Virginia Grievance Procedure has a number of steps in this process.  The grievance process is administered by the Virginia Department of Human Resource Management, Division of Employment Dispute Resolution (EDR).

Starting the Grievance Process

The first step in the grievance procedure for a Virginia state employee is to prepare a written grievance over the employment problem at issue.  The employee involved must usually file a written grievance within 30 days of the date that an employee knew or should have known about the issue being grieved. This is very important. If a grievance is not filed in a timely manner, the grievance will likely be dismissed. The grievance must be submitted on what is known as Grievance Form A. If there is not enough space on Grievance Form A, attachments may be used in filing the grievance.  The first step of the grievance process is generally filed with the employee’s immediate supervisor.

The Grievance Procedure Steps

The grievance process, once initiated, generally goes through 3 separate steps in Virginia.  First, there is a First Step grievance conducted by the employee’s immediate supervisor.  If the matter is unresolved, it may proceed to a Second Resolution Step Meeting.  As opposed to the First Step, a meeting is required during the Second Step.  The Second Step is usually considered a fact finding session.  If the Second Step does not resolve the grievance, the employee may then take their grievance to the Third Step.  If the Third Step does not resolve the grievance and an employee wishes to take their grievance forward, he or she must then ask that their grievance certified for a hearing by the agency head.

In some cases, where a grievance involves a demotion, suspension without pay or any other action that results in an actual loss of wages, the employee may be able to elect the Expedited Process for grievance review.  This Expedited Process generally starts at the Second Step procedures and is reduced to a single step.  Dismissals due to formal discipline or unsatisfactory job performance usually will not go through the grievance steps, but rather proceed to the Grievance Hearing Process.

The Grievance Hearing Process

Grievances not resolved in the grievance process may or may not next move to the Grievance Hearing Process.  Please note that not all grievances are eligible for a grievance hearing.  Cases involving formal disciplinary (a written notice) actions and dismissals for unsatisfactory performance usually qualify for the hearing stage.  Other types of grievances involving adverse employment actions may also qualify for a hearing.  These can include: (1) unfair application of state/agency policies; (2) discrimination; (3) arbitrary or capricious performance evaluation; (4) retaliation for participation in the grievance process; and (5) other types of informal discipline (i.e. transfers, assignments, demotions and suspensions that are not accompanied by a formal notice by taken for disciplinary reasons).  If a grievance is deemed by an agency head not
to be eligible for a hearing, the employee may appeal that decision to EDR.

The Grievance Hearing Process consists of the appointment of a Hearing Officer, a pre-hearing conference and the formal hearing, in addition to other procedures.  During the hearing, documents will be introduced as exhibits and witnesses will be examined and cross-examined. If the grievance involves a disciplinary matter, then a state agency must prove their case by a preponderance (51%) of the evidence presented.  Following the hearing, the Hearing Officer will provide a decision in writing.  The Hearing Officer may uphold or deny the grievance.

Court Review

If the Hearing Officer rules against a party, that party can then appeal the adverse decision to the EDR or to the Virginia Department of Human Resources Management (DHRM), depending on the issue to be appealed before it is considered final.  Once the hearing decision becomes final, a party can then appeal an adverse determination to Circuit Court and from there to the Court of Appeals.  A petition can also be filed requiring implementation of the final hearing decision.

Conclusion

When a Virginia state employee files an employment grievance, it is important to obtain legal advice and legal representation. Our law firm stands ready to advise and represent Commonwealth of Virginia employees in in their state employment grievances. We can be contacted at www.berrylegal.com or by telephone at (703) 668-0070.