Virginia General Assembly 2024 Employment Law Roundup: Governor Vetoes Sweeping Changes

April 22, 2024

Few changes to the commonwealth’s employment laws emerged from the General Assembly’s 2024 legislative session. While several modest reforms made their way past Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s desk, bills introducing more sweeping changes received his veto.

Notable Gubernatorial Vetoes

  • Minimum Wage Reform. H.B. 1/S.B. 1 would have increased minimum wage in Virginia from $12/hour to $13.50 in 2025 and $15 in 2026. Additionally, H.B. 157 would have ended an exemption for farmworkers that excuses them from state minimum-wage requirements. Youngkin vetoed the bill, reasoning that the increase would harm small businesses, farmers and the economic competitiveness of the state.
  • Pay Transparency. Imitating recent job ad reforms in New York City, Washington, D.C., and six states over the past three years, S.B. 370/H.B. 990 would have required employers to include a salary range in job postings and prohibited employers from asking job applicants to disclose their prior salary history in the application process. Youngkin expressed concerns for wage inequality among women and minorities, but found the one-size-fits-all approach would have adverse effects on small businesses that may struggle to comply, exposing them to lawsuits. He also acknowledged the proposed law would offer businesses incomplete information during the hiring process.
  • Paid Family Leave. Under S.B. 373, Virginia would have joined Washington, D.C., and 13 other states to guarantee workers paid time off for family and medical needs. The bill would have funded the program through a new payroll tax. The governor reasoned the proposed law removed the incentive for the private sector to provide these benefits and was unfair to small businesses and nonprofits.
  • Unemployment Benefits for Lock Outs. H.B. 938/S.B. 542 would have allowed certain employees who are out of work during labor disputes to qualify for unemployment benefits. The governor vetoed the proposal because it would have raised taxes and involved the Virginia Employment Commission in labor disputes for the first time.
  • Whistleblower Protection Reforms. H.B. 770 would have modified the state’s whistleblower protection laws to: (1) extend the statute of limitations; (2) award double damages for willful violations; and (3) expand the right to a jury to determine remedies, including reinstatement following retaliation. Youngkin reasoned that juries’ appropriate function should be finding facts and delivering verdicts, not determining equitable remedies.
  • Class Actions. Virginia and Mississippi remain the only two states that do not permit class action suits filed in state courts. S.B. 259/H.B. 418 would have allowed for such suits in Virginia. The governor cited concerns that excessive tort liabilities for businesses would stunt economic growth and the backlog of Virginia’s civil dockets following the Court of Appeals’ 2022 expansion.
  • Retail Recreational Marijuana Market. Omnibus marijuana bills H.B. 698/S.B. 448 would have established a framework for the creation of a retail marijuana market, to be administered by the Virginia Cannabis Control Authority. The governor’s lengthy veto statement cited concerns of adverse effects on children’s health and safety; failures of states with legalized retail marijuana; an increase in violent crime, psychiatric disorders and a decline in safety; and concerns that the bill would not eliminate the black market or resolve issues with inconsistent enforcement of the commonwealth’s current laws.

Enacted Reforms to Virginia Employment Law

  • “Ethnic Origin” Added as Protected Class. H.B. 18/S.B. 7 modestly reforms the Virginia Human Rights Act by adding “ethnic origin” to its list of protected classes. The bill amends the list of protected classes that received a major update in 2020.
  • Expanded Protection for Medical Cannabis Use to Public Employees. As previously reported, in 2021 Virginia prohibited private employers from discriminating against most employees for their lawful use of medical cannabis oil. S.B. 391/H.B. 149 amends that law to expand protections to most public employees of the commonwealth, including employees of Virginia counties, cities, towns, agencies and political subdivisions. Employers may continue to prohibit impairment caused by cannabis oil and can prohibit possession during work hours.
  • Increased Penalties for Child Labor Violations.Virginia regulates the employment of minors, limits the hours they can work and forbids their employment in hazardous jobs. Effective July 1, 2024, H.B. 100 increases the civil penalty for violating the commonwealth’s law from $1,000 to $2,500 generally, and from $10,000 to $25,000 for violations resulting in serious injury or death.

Virginia employers should review their policies, handbooks and agreement templates to prepare to comply with these new laws. For further information or questions about these or any other aspects of Virginia employment law, please contact the authors of this alert or any other member of the firm’s labor and employment group.