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Virginia General Assembly Considering Legislation To Limit Liability for Disclosing Threats of Workplace Violence

On January 17, 2018, Delegate Chris Hurst of Blacksburg  introduced legislation that would grant civil immunity to employers who share information about violent acts or threats made by current or former employees to prospective employers or law enforcement agencies.   The proposed legislation, House Bill No. 1457, would also grant civil immunity to employers who rely upon such information in hiring decisions.

The bill would protect employers who disclose information about potential threats from civil liability so long as the employer did not act in bad faith and acted “in good faith and with reasonable cause.”   There would be a presumption that the disclosing employer acted in good faith, subject to rebuttal if the employee can show by clear and convincing evidence that the employer knew the information was false or acted with reckless disregard for its truth or falsity.  Likewise, an employer who does not hire an applicant based upon a disclosure made pursuant to this law is immune so long as they “take[] reasonable action in good faith to respond to the violent or threatened violent behavior noted in such report.”  Under HB 1457, an employer who succeeds in getting a lawsuit against it dismissed pursuant to this statutory immunity is entitled to recover reasonable attorneys fees and costs.

The bill’s sponsor, Delegate Hurst, was dating Roanoke WDBJ television reporter Alison Parker when she was shot and killed by a former co-worker in 2015. The assailant, Vester Flanagan, had been fired by WDBJ in 2013 after displaying erratic behavior which made co-workers uncomfortable. Flanagan reportedly  had had a  troubled employment history of which WDBJ was unaware when it hired him.

HB 1457 has been assigned to the House Courts of Justice  Subcommittee.  It is too early to assess its prospects for passage.

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