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Virginia General Assembly Considering Bills to Allow Employees to Sue for Unpaid Wages

Unlike many states, Virginia does not provide a statutory right for employees to sue their employer for unpaid wages.  At present, an employee is limited to filing a complaint with the state Department of Labor & Industry or filing suit for breach of contract. However, two bills introduced by Delegates from both sides of the aisle may soon change that.

House Bills 1687 and 2524 would both amend Virginia Code Section 40.1-29 to allow employees to sue for unpaid wages in any court of competent jurisdiction. The legislation would also allow employees to sue for deductions from wages (other than tax withholding)  made without a written and signed authorization from the employee.  In the event the employer “knowingly” failed to pay wages in accordance  with the statute, the employer would have to pay the employee’s reasonable attorneys fees. Additionally, where the employer “willfully and with intent to defraud” fails or refuses to pay wages, the employee could recover a penalty equal to three times the wages due. Both versions of the bill would also allow employees to recover 8% interest on the unpaid wages, even if the employer did not act willfully or with intent to defraud.

The legislation is opposed by the Virginia Chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business, which fears that small businesses will be hurt by frivolous claims.  However, given that the legislation has support from both Democratic and Republican sponsors, it may have a chance of being passed.

The bills have been assigned to a subcommittee in the House Committee on Commerce and Labor. They are expected to be taken up for consideration in the next few weeks.

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