COVID-19 shutdown to delay increase in minimum wage

virginia state capitol
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Gov. Ralph Northam is proposing a four-month delay in a proposed increase in the minimum wage in Virginia.

House Bill 395 and Senate Bill 7, passed by the General Assembly in March, called for an increase in the minimum wage from its current $7.25 per hour to $9.50 an hour effective Jan. 1, 2021.

Under the governor’s amendments, the minimum wage would increase beginning May 1, 2021.

This news came as the governor’s office touted Northam signing 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.

“Every Virginian deserves access to a safe and well-paying job,” said 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, 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:

Combating Worker Misclassification

  • House Bill 1407 and Senate Bill 744, sponsored by Del. Jeion Ward and Sen. Jeremey McPike, respectively, authorize 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, sponsored by Del. Karrie Delaney and Senate Majority Leader Richard L. Saslaw, respectively, create 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, sponsored by Del. Kathy Tran and Sen. Jennifer Boysko, respectively, protect 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, sponsored by Del. Paul Krizek, 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, sponsored by Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy and Sen. Jennifer McClellan, respectively, protect 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, sponsored by Del. Mark Levine, 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.

Combating Wage Theft

  • House Bill 123, sponsored by Carroll Foy, 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, sponsored by Sen. Adam Ebbin, 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.
  • House Bill 336 and Senate Bill 49, sponsored by Del. Marcia Price and Sen. Lionell Spruill, respectively, give the Department of Labor and Industry expanded authority in investigating wage theft complaints.
  • House Bill 337 and Senate Bill 48, sponsored by Del. Marcia Price and Spruill, respectively, protect employees who report wage theft or institute proceedings against their employer from retaliation.

Additional Worker Projections

  • House Bill 330 and Senate Bill 480, sponsored by Del. Schuyler VanValkenburg and Sen. Bill DeSteph, respectively, prohibit employers from entering into a non-compete contract with any of their low-wage employees. This new law also creates a private cause of action for a low-wage employee to bring a lawsuit against an employer who tries to enforce a non-compete covenant.
  • House Bill 798, sponsored by Del. Karrie Delaney, protects workers from retaliation from their employer for reporting violations or suspected violations of state law.
  • House Bill 1201 and Senate Bill 380, sponsored by Del. Kathy Tran and Sen. Jeremy McPike, respectively, allow localities to include criteria in their “invitation to bid” to determine whether a bidder who is not prequalified by the Virginia Department of Transportation is a responsible bidder. This new law will support workers and help local contractors find the best trained and safest workers for their projects.

Northam proposes amendments to these bills:

  • Senate Bill 548, sponsored by Sen. John Edwards, addresses qualifications for unemployment insurance. In light of the current economic crisis, 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, sponsored by Del. Don Scott, 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. Northam amended this legislation to also include protections from discrimination on the basis of gender identity.
  • House Bill 833 and Senate Bill 8, sponsored by Carroll Foy and Saslaw, respectively, address payment of “prevailing wages” by contractors doing business with certain government bodies. Under the governor’s amendments, this law would take effect May 1, 2021.
  • House Bill 582and Senate Bill 939, sponsored by Del. Elizabeth Guzman and Saslaw, respectively, permit localities to enter into collective bargaining agreements with local employees. Under the Governor’s amendments, this law would take effect May 1, 2021.
  • House Bill 358and Senate Bill 182, sponsored by Del. Alfonso Lopez and Saslaw, respectively, authorize state and local bodies to require project labor agreements for construction, manufacture, maintenance, or operation of public works. Under the Governor’s amendments, this law would take effect May 1, 2021.

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