• 202-980-3857202-980-3857

SPLF Employment Blog

a vibrant photo of the Richmond, Virginia skyline

How the New Virginia Laws Impact Employees

Over the past few months, despite the overwhelming pressure placed on lawmakers and laypeople alike by the COVID-19 pandemic, Virginia has made major strides against discrimination in the workplace. As of July 1, 2020, the Virginia Values Act has gone into effect, along with additional similar pieces of legislation, altering the Virginia Human Rights Act and dramatically expanding the workplace rights for members of the LGBTQ community, pregnant women and new mothers, people experiencing racial discrimination and whistleblowers. If you fall under any of these categories, you may be wondering what exactly has changed for you. Here’s what you need to know about the employment laws now in effect:

New protections under the Virginia Values Act

Under the Virginia Values Act, it is now explicitly illegal for private and public organizations to discriminate in employment and hiring practices based on an individuals gender identity, sexuality or perceived sexuality. The VVA also removes the previous 12-month backpay damages cap, stating that courts may now award employees compensatory and punitive damages as well as providing no cap for reasonable attorney fees and costs. Employees who were wrongfully terminated by an employer with as few as five employees may also file in Virginia’s state courts, which are considerably less prone to dismissal by summary judgement than federal courts. The Act also established the Division of Human Rights, which will “assist in the prevention of and relief from alleged unlawful discriminatory practices.”

The Human Rights Act was also affected by SB 712, expanding protections for pregnant individuals and new mothers. The law provides explicit wording that prohibits employers from discriminating against an employee because of pregnancy, childbirth, lactation or a related medical condition, as well as providing reasonable accommodations for these conditions as long as that accommodation does not “impose an undue hardship” on the employer. The employer must also give notice to employees of these rights and cannot retaliate against an employee that takes advantage of these accommodations.

The definitions of racial discrimination in the VHRA were also expanded in significant ways. Following the trend of states like Maryland, the definition was amended to explicitly provide protections against discrimination on the basis of “traits historically associated with race, including hair texture, hair type, and protective hairstyles such as braids, locks, and twists.”

Additional Protections for Employees

Beyond amendments to the Virginia Human Rights Act, there were a few significant changes to Virginia law which offer additional rights and protections for employees and those seeking employment. HB 757 amended Virginia Law to implement so-called “ban the box” legislation. Under the new law, state and local governments are now prohibited from asking about arrests, charges or convictions during the application process, as well as preventing applications from moving forward due to an arrest or conviction record. The only exceptions to this are “sensitive” positions, law enforcement and related positions, or “state agencies that are expressly permitted to inquire into an individual’s criminal arrests or charges.”

Additionally, HB 798 expanded whistleblower protections significantly. Whereas the old law only provided protections for whistleblowers that had been fired, there are now protections against retaliation for reporting a violation of state or federal law to a supervisor or government official, including a law enforcement officer, assisting in a government investigation, hearing or inquiry made at the request of a law enforcement officer or government official (including providing testimony concerning the employer’s alleged wrongdoing) and refusing to commit a crime.

The Bottom Line

Despite the challenges that we as a nation are currently facing, employees throughout Virginia are receiving more protections than ever before. Though most of these changes are expansions of pre-existing definitions, the potential impact of each of these pieces of legislation is immense. The codifying of protections listed above is a major step on the path to closing legal openings which have been historically used to marginalize some of our most vulnerable communities, as well as being an important step in building a society where everyone is equal under the law.

Share this post

Latest Articles

The Biggest Theft That Nobody Is Talking About

The Biggest Theft That Nobody Is Talking About

At a time when billionaire extraordinaire Elon Musk is dominating headlines with his multi-billion-dollar buying spree, there is another story worth billions that is curiously absent from our Twitter feeds. Unfortunately, rather than recount the spending of riches, this story tells the tale of one of the greatest thefts in American history. Every hour, millions …

The Biggest Theft That Nobody Is Talking About Read More »

Maryland Passes Two Bills To Strengthen Anti-discrimination and Harassment Protection In The Workplace

Maryland Passes Two Bills To Strengthen Anti-discrimination and Harassment Protection In The Workplace

Last night the Maryland General Assembly passed two bills, SB 450 and SB 451, which will increase protections for victims of harassment and discrimination in the workplace.  SB 450 eliminates the ‘severe or pervasive’ standard for harassment claims and creates a new standard for harassment claims in the workplace. The prior ‘severe or pervasive’ standard …

Maryland Passes Two Bills To Strengthen Anti-discrimination and Harassment Protection In The Workplace Read More »

DMV Survey Series: Wage Theft Edition

DMV Survey Series: Wage Theft Edition

*In this series, the author will explore the differences in specific areas of the law between D.C., Maryland, and Virginia, and hopefully answer the age-old question: which state is best for employees? Please remember that this blog post, like all of our posts, offers general information and is NOT legal advice. – Upon reading this …

DMV Survey Series: Wage Theft Edition Read More »

The Supreme Court Decides to Block and Uphold Biden’s Vaccination Mandates

The Supreme Court Decides to Block and Uphold Biden’s Vaccination Mandates

On January 13, 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court made two major decisions. These related to President Biden’s attempts to increase the number of workers who are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus. The first decision temporarily blocked the vaccinate-or-test regulation that applied to employers with 100 or more employees. The second decision allowed the vaccination requirement …

The Supreme Court Decides to Block and Uphold Biden’s Vaccination Mandates Read More »

Talk To A Real Person