Virginia Employment Law Basics

By Lisa Guerin, ​J.D., Boalt Hall at the University of California at Berkeley
Learn about the federal and Virginia laws that protect employees at work.

Employment laws apply to every part of the employment relationship, from hiring to firing. These laws outlaw harassment and discrimination, set wage and hour standards, and require employers to maintain a healthy, safe workplace, among other things.

This guide will give you an introduction to some of the laws that protect Virginia employees.

Wage and Hour Laws in Virginia

The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and Virginia law set the wage and hour standards employers must follow, including the minimum wage, overtime, and other wage protections. Employers must pay the highest minimum wage applicable to employees, whether set by federal, state, or local law. Currently, the federal and state minimum wage are the same, $7.25 an hour.

Virginia doesn’t have its own overtime law. Under the FLSA, however, Virginia employers must pay employees time and a half if they work more than 40 hours in a week. Not all employees are entitled to earn overtime, however. If you fit into an exception to the overtime laws (for example, because you are a salaried manager as defined by the law), you are an exempt employee, which means you are not eligible for overtime.

To learn more about Virginia wage and hour laws, visit the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry. You can find out more about the FLSA from the Wage and Hour Division of the federal Department of Labor.

Discrimination and Harassment Laws in Virginia

The federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers from making job decisions based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), or national origin. Additional laws prohibit discrimination based on age (if the employee is at least 40 years old), disability, or genetic information. Employers with at least 15 employees are subject to these laws (for age discrimination, employers with at least 20 employees must comply with the law). Employers may not discriminate in any part of the employment relationship, from job posts and application forms to hiring, promotions, pay and benefits, leave, discipline, layoffs, and firing. For detailed information on federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination, see the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s Laws Enforced by the EEOC.

Virginia law protects employees from discrimination based on all of these traits. Virginia law also bans discrimination based on marital status. Employers with at least six employees are subject to Virginia’s state laws that prohibit discrimination. To file a complaint or learn more about Virginia’s laws prohibiting discrimination, visit the website of the Virginia Division of Human Rights.

It is also illegal to harass employees on the basis of a protected characteristic. Legally, harassment is defined as unwelcome behavior, comments, or actions that create a hostile or offensive working environment or that the victim is subjected to as a condition of employment. Sexual harassment – often in the form of unwanted touching, requests for dates, sexual comments, pornography, and so on – is the most familiar type of harassment, but harassment might also be based on race, national origin, and other protected traits.

If you complain about workplace harassment or discrimination, you are protected from retaliation. Your employer may not discipline, fire, or take other negative action against you because you complain within the company, to a government agency (like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or the Virginia Division of Human Rights), or in a lawsuit.

Time Off Work in Virginia

It’s customary in this country for employers to provide some paid leave to employees, such as vacation, sick days, holidays, or paid time off (PTO) benefits. Although a handful of states require employers to give employees paid sick days, neither Virginia nor federal law requires employers to offer paid leave.

However, employers may be required to offer unpaid leave for reasons such as:

  • Military leave. The federal Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) and Virginia law both require employers to allow employees to take leave from work for federal or state military service or duty. Employees must be reinstated after their leave, and may not be discriminated against based on their service. In Virginia, employees who are members of the state militia, National Guard, or state defense force must be given unpaid leave if the governor calls them to active duty, and they may not be required to use their paid time off benefits for this leave. Employees have the right to reinstatement under state law, too.
  • Family and medical leave. The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires employers with at least 50 employees to give eligible employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off per year for illness and caregiving, and sometimes longer. While you are on FMLA leave, your employer must continue your benefits. You have the right to be reinstated when your leave is through. Some states have similar laws that give employees leave rights; Virginia does not, however.
  • Jury duty. Virginia employers must also allow employees to take unpaid time off work for jury service, and may not require them to use their paid leave benefits for this purpose.

Workplace Safety and Injuries

Employees have the right to a workplace that is safe and free of known dangers. Employers must provide healthy, safe working conditions as well as the safety equipment and training required for their industry.

Employees have the right to request an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspection if they believe their employer has committed safety violations. It is illegal for employers to fire, discipline, or retaliate against employees who complain of unsafe or hazardous working conditions.

If you suffer an on-the-job injury, you will likely be eligible for workers’ compensation. Most Virginia employers are required to carry workers’ compensation insurance. Workers’ comp provides you with a percentage of your usual earnings, pays for necessary medical treatment, and provides vocational rehabilitation and other benefits.

Your Rights When You Leave Your Job in Virginia

Virginia employees generally work at will. This means they can quit at any time, and can be fired at any time, for any reason that is not illegal. However, even at-will employees may not be fired for reasons that are discriminatory or retaliatory. You may not be fired, for example, for complaining about workplace dangers, overtime violations, or discrimination.

If you are laid off or otherwise lose your job through no fault of your own (that is, you don’t voluntarily quit your job and you are not fired for serious misconduct), you will likely be eligible for unemployment benefits in Virginia. You must meet certain eligibility requirements, including a minimum earnings requirement. You must also search for work diligently to continue receiving benefits. If you are eligible, you will receive a percentage of your previous earnings for 26 weeks while you are looking for a new job.

A federal law called the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) gives you the right to continue your health insurance coverage after your employment ends. You must pay the full premium (including whatever portion your employer used to pay). You can continue these benefits for 18 to 36 months, depending on your situation and whether you have dependents.

More Information on Employment Laws in Virginia

For details on federal laws, including workers' comp, the FMLA, and minimum wage, see Summary of the Major Laws of the Department of Labor on the U.S. Department of Labor website. For state rules, see the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry.

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If you believe your employer has violated your workplace rights, you should speak to an experienced Virginia employment lawyer.

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