Gov. Northam signs new laws to support Virginia workers

Gov. Northam signs new laws to support Virginia workers
Gov. Ralph Northam announced a goal to eliminate racial disparities in maternal mortality during a ceremonial bill signing on June 5. (Source: Gov. Ralph Northam's Twitter feed)

RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Governor Ralph Northam has signed nearly two dozen new laws to support working Virginians, including legislation to combat worker misclassification and wage theft, ban workplace discrimination, and prohibit non-compete covenants for low-wage workers.

The Governor proposes to increase the minimum wage starting May 1, 2021, and to advance prevailing wage, collective bargaining, and project labor agreement legislation then as well. This will ensure workers get the support they need while allowing greater economic certainty in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Every Virginian deserves access to a safe and well-paying job,” said Governor Northam. “These new laws will support workers and help our economy rebound as quickly as possible from COVID-19. I am grateful for the General Assembly’s ongoing partnership as we address these critical issues.”

In addition, Governor Northam is proposing amendments to prohibit apprenticeship discrimination on the basis of gender identity and to create a work-sharing program to support workers impacted by COVID-19.

Governor Northam signed the following bills:

Combatting Worker Misclassification

House Bill 1407 and Senate Bill 744, authorizes the Department of Taxation to oversee investigations into suspected cases of worker misclassification and levy penalties as appropriate. A 2012 report of the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) estimated that at least 214,000 Virginians were misclassified as “independent contractors” by their employers.

House Bill 984 and Senate Bill 894, creates a private cause of action for a misclassified worker to bring civil action for damages against his or her employer.

House Bill 1199 and Senate Bill 662, protects employees or independent contractors who report misclassification from employer retaliation. Employers that are found to have engaged in retaliatory action will be subject to a civil penalty up to the value of the employee’s lost wages.

House Bill 1646, requires contractors to properly classify all workers as employees or independent contractors. This law gives the Board of Contractors the ability to sanction contractors who are found to have intentionally misclassified workers.

Banning Workplace Discrimination

House Bill 827 and Senate Bill 712, protects workers from discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. This law prohibits pregnancy discrimination, requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for pregnancy and childbirth, and creates a private cause of action for workplace pregnancy discrimination.

House Bill 1049, prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in a number of areas of law, including employment, public contracting, and apprenticeship programs.

Combatting Wage Theft

House Bill 123, creates a private cause of action for workers to recover unpaid wages lost to wage theft. If a court finds an employer has knowingly failed to pay an employee’s wages, the court may award the employee reasonable attorneys’ fees in addition to triple the amount of wages due.

Senate Bill 838, creates a private cause of action for workers to recover unpaid wages. Additionally, this new law makes general contractors liable and subject to penalty for wage theft, under certain conditions.

Governor Northam proposes amendments to these bills:

Senate Bill 548, addresses qualifications for unemployment insurance. In light of the current economic crisis, Governor Northam amended this legislation to authorize a work-sharing program in Virginia. Work-sharing programs can help businesses avoid laying off their employees by permitting them to reduce their employees’ hours and allow affected employees to collect reduced unemployment benefits in the form of short-time compensation. The federal CARES Act offers funding incentives for states to build work-sharing programs of this sort.

House Bill 1252, prohibits a sponsor of a registered apprenticeship program from discriminating against an apprentice or applicant on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, age (if older than 40), genetic information, or disability. Governor Northam amended this legislation to also include protections from discrimination on the basis of gender identity.

House Bill 395 and Senate Bill 7, raise the minimum wage. Under the Governor’s amendments, the minimum wage would increase beginning May 1, 2021.

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