New Law for Virginia Whistleblowers

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We write frequently on this website about how Virginia is “good for business.” While that may be true, Virginia is often bad for employees. For years, the at-will employment doctrine shielded Virginia employers from litigation brought by their employees. A new statute may upend the longstanding protections enjoyed by employers and provide appropriate recourse for whistleblowing employees.

Historically, Virginia followed the at-will employment doctrine. The doctrine provided that subject to a few exceptions, an employer may fire an employee for any reason, at any time, without cause. The doctrine provided little protection for employees who were fired or reprimanded for “blowing the whistle” on their employer’s unethical business practices.

On April 11, 2020, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam signed into law HB798. The new statute dramatically broadens the extent of whistleblower protections for employees in Virginia. HB798 protects employees from retaliatory action by their employer when the employee:

  • Reports violations of state or federal law to a supervisor or governmental body;
  • Participates in a government investigation
  • Refuses to commit a criminal act

Likewise, “retaliatory action” is defined quite broadly. Retaliatory action is not merely limited to firing but includes “any retaliatory action that goes to the employee’s compensation, terms, conditions, privileges, or work condition.”

The remedies a successful employee may receive is likewise expansive. An aggrieved employee may receive:

  • An injunction
  • Reinstatement
  • Recovery of lost wages

Under HB798 employees do not have to go through an administrative process such as filing a complaint with a government agency. They can go directly to court and sue the employer. Further, the employee is not limited to filing in federal court, but may file in Virginia state court that tends to be more pro-plaintiff.

HB798 become effective July 1, 2020. No less an authority than Forbes magazine calls this new legislation a “monumental shift in favor of employees and provides substantive protections for employees who step forward and blow the whistle on their employers.”[1]

[1] Spiggle, Tom. What The New HB798 Whistleblowing Law Means for Virginia Workers. Forbes (May 5, 2020). Available at https://www.forbes.com/sites/tomspiggle/2020/05/05/new-virginia-whistleblower-law/#5aa61a3c167e.

Bo Frith