By John V. Berry, www.berrylegal.com
New legislation has been passed in Virginia to protect employees from employers that do not pay wages that are owed. If Virginia House Bill 123 is either signed by Governor Ralph Northam or not acted upon by April 11, 2020, employees will have new rights to pursue unpaid wages. Virginia House Bill 123 has been passed by both the Virginia House and Senate. The new law would create a new right to sue in the collection of unpaid wages in Virginia. Virginia House Bill 123 also allow employees the right to seek triple damages and other remedies.
New Employer Damages and Penalties
Virginia House Bill 123 enables Virginia employees to bring suit against employers that fail to pay wages and also allows them to recover their wages owed, plus 8% interest from the date that the wages were due. In addition, Employees may awarded triple damages (three times the amount of their unpaid wages), attorney’s fees and/or other costs if a court finds that the employer knowingly failed to pay the wages that were due. There is also a $1,000 civil penalty against the employe for a violation.
Hypothetical: Under the new law, for example, if an employer fails to pay an employee $2,000 that is earned, they could be liable for that amount, plus 8%, potentially 3 times the wages that were not paid and attorney’s fees incurred by the employee. The $2,000 that was unpaid could easily become a judgment against the employer for $5,000 to $10,000 by the time damages, attorney’s fees and civil penalties are included.
Potential Employer Criminal Penalties
In addition to civil penalties, there are also criminal law penalties in the new legislation. Employers can be found guilty of a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 12 months in jail, if the wages owed are less than $10,000. Employers are to be considered guilty of a felony, punishable by a prison term of up to five years, if the value of unpaid wages is at least $10,000 or if the employer previously has a prior conviction involving a similar wage issue. Criminal liability now only applies if the non-payment of wages was willful with the intent to defraud. If Virginia House Bill 123 is signed or otherwise allowed to become law, it would be effective on July 1, 2020.
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