Bill Clarifies Virginia Law to Protect Employees from Harassment and Discrimination
RICHMOND, VA – Today, the Senate of Virginia passed Sen. Jennifer McClellan’s (D-Richmond) bill (SB 494) to strengthen protections for employees who are victims of discrimination and harassment. The bill passed on a 21-19vote, and will now move to the House for consideration.
McClellan’s bill strengthens protections for employees who are victims of discrimination by codifying a 2-year statute of limitations for filing a written complaint or civil lawsuit under the Virginia Human Rights Act.
The bill also establishes a consistent definition of employer for employment discrimination under the Human Rights Act as one employing 5 or more employees. Under current law, the 5- employee threshold only applies to employers who unlawfully fire an employee or fail to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant or lactating workers, but not to other employment discrimination claims. The uniform definition would help avoid confusion for workers and businesses.
The bill also provides that a prevailing plaintiff shall be awarded attorney’s fees.
“Virginia workers and businesses deserve a clear standard for the law on workplace harassment and discrimination,” said Sen. McClellan. “This bill would strengthen protections for employees and bring clarity to the current patchwork of workplace discrimination law. I look forward to working with my colleagues in the House to pass this important bill into law.”
A broad coalition of organizations support Senate Bill 494 including: Virginia Domestic and Sexual Violence Action Alliance, Care in Action, YWCA Richmond, Virginia AFL-CIO, Strelka Employment Law, Pro-Choice Virginia, National Women’s Law Center, AAUW-VA, First Shift Justice Project, Metropolitan Washington Employment Lawyers Association, Virginia Poverty Law Center, Virginia Employment Lawyers Association, League of Women Voters of Virginia, and Birth in Color RVA.
“Every worker deserves respect and dignity on the job,” said Alexsis Rodgers, Care in Action Virginia State Director. “Senate Bill 494 will provide consistency and clarity for the Virginia Human Rights Act, so that workers and employers understand their rights and responsibilities. Care in Action applauds Senator McClellan and the Virginia Senate for passing this bill. We urge the House of Delegates to follow their lead.”
“The Virginia Senate today passed a bill to fix significant issues within the Virginia Human Rights Act,” said Mark Hanna of Murphy & Anderson, PLLC. “These changes will be meaningful to both employees and employers to simplify and streamline the law that protects the civil rights of Virginians in the workplace.”
During her 16 years in the legislature, McClellan has been a leader on expanding workplace protections for Virginians. She was chief patron of the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, which ended a relic of Jim Crow-era policies that had excluded domestic workers from protections under the Virginia Human Rights Act and workplace health and safety requirements. She also authored the Pregnant Worker Fairness Act, which strengthened protections for pregnant workers under the Virginia Human Rights Act, requiring employers to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant employees and mothers of infants. She was also a chief co-patron of Sen. Adam Ebbin’s (D-Alexandria) Virginia Values Act, which made Virginia the first state in the South to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.