Wrongful Termination for Virginia Employees

By Kimberly H. Berry, www.berrylegal.com

It is very difficult for an employee to be called into a supervisor’s office or to the human resources office unexpectedly and be informed that his/her employment has been terminated. Even if somewhat expected, it is almost always a shock to the employee when it happens.  Following the notice of termination, usually the employee is escorted out of their building and is faced with a sense of bewilderment and loss.  They may not even have time to gather their belongings. Continue reading

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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Employee Monitoring in Virginia

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

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An interesting topic in Virginia employment law involves an employee’s right to privacy within the workplace. While there have not yet been many specific laws enacted by the Commonwealth of Virginia governing employee rights in the workplace, this area of law is developing and changing almost as fast as technology is. In light of the advancements in monitoring technology available to employers, it is only a matter of time before we see more employee privacy issues addressed by the Virginia Legislature and our court system.

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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.

This article discusses severance agreements in the Commonwealth of Virginia and some issues associated with them for employees.

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Virginia Employees’ Protection from Retaliation for Safety and Health Complaints at Work

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

Virginia employees are protected by Occupational Safety and Health laws from retaliation and discrimination if they report safety and health issues in the workplace which affect other employees. In Virginia, an employee shall not be discriminated against or terminated in retaliation for filing a safety or health complaint, testifying or exercising a right under Virginia Code Ann. § 40.1-51.2:1 concerning employee safety and health.

Examples of Retaliation Potentially Covered by Virginia Law

Here are some examples where the Virginia law against retaliation might apply. Keep in mind that this particular Virginia law is focused on dangers reported that could affect an employee or other employees in the workplace.
1. An employee reports to the fire department that there is a gas leak in the office. The fire department finds the cause of the leak and the employer is required to upgrade the gas lines. The manager gets upset at the cost to fix the leak and fires the employee.
2. An employee informs her manager that work vehicles are unsafe and not maintained properly. The manager, rather than fix the work vehicles, decides to fire the employee as a means to keep her from complaining or exposing the issues.
3. An employee reports a severe mold problem in the workplace. As a result, the employer is forced to spend a significant amount of money to fix the mold problem. The Employee is fired as a result of reporting the issue.

Filing a VOSH Complaint of Retaliation or Discrimination

A Virginia Occupational Safety and Health (VOSH) complaint of retaliation or discrimination must be filed within 60 days of the discriminatory action with the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry. If not, the complaint is likely to be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. Following the filing of a complaint, a VOSH investigator will contact the complainant and/or his/her counsel and will initiate an investigation if all of the requirements for jurisdiction have been met. The investigator will follow the VOSH Whistleblower Investigation Manual in evaluating the case. An investigation may lead to a settlement for the employee or could lead to sustained findings by VOSH. There is also civil court review for an employee if a sustained violation by the investigator is not found.

Conclusion

If you believe that your Virginia employer has treated you differently for reporting a safety and health issue that affects the health of employees or need assistance with another employment law issue 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.

Filing a Sexual Harassment Complaint in Virginia

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

Employees in the Commonwealth of Virginia have a number of forums for potentially filing a sexual harassment complaint. Individuals often also ask us to help them determine whether or not the facts in their case constitute sexual harassment. The general definition of sexual harassment, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is that it includes “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.” Continue reading

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.