Does the ADA Apply to Cyberspace?; Rocket Docket Update; ADA Protections for Opiod Use Disorder
By: Jonathan R. Mook
Although many jurisdictions, including the District of Columbia and Maryland, have taken steps to mandate employers to provide paid leave, including maternity leave, Virginia has adopted a more modest approach with respect to paid leave following childbirth.
What is required
Virginia’s approach focuses on insurance companies and requires that their short-term disability (STD) policies include provisions for maternity leave coverage. Thus, for Virginia employers that choose to provide STD coverage, it now will include disability coverage that arises out of childbirth. More specifically, STD policies that were delivered or issued for delivery in the Commonwealth by an insurer on or after July 1, 2021, must provide a maternity benefit of at least 12 weeks following childbirth.
Not every employee who gives birth, however, will be entitled to the STD maternity benefit. That’s because the employee must meet the current definition of disability outlined in the employer’s STD plan. Additionally, some pre-existing condition limitations of the STD plan may apply to the new maternity benefit. For example, when an employee is within the pre-existing condition limitation of the employer’s STD plan, the maternity benefit won’t be available. An STD plan’s elimination period cannot be used, however, to reduce the mandatory 12-week maternity benefit.
Because STD policies vary depending upon the insurer, Virginia employers should request information from their STD carrier on changes in the policy language for the new maternity leave requirement. You also should ask the carrier whether it will require employees seeking maternity benefits to obtain medical documentation stating they are disabled and unable to return to work for up to 12 weeks.
Some insurance carriers may not require documentation, but if that’s the case, you likely will see an increase in the cost of your STD policies.
What employers should do
There are two important steps that Virginia employers should take in light of Virginia’s maternity disability requirement.
First, employers that have STD plans should contact their insurance carrier to make sure their plan, as well as all policy documents, are accurate and up to date and reflect the Virginia law requiring maternity benefits to be offered.
Second, you should review your current leave policies to make sure they reflect any STD benefits that are available to employees, including STD benefits for maternity leave following childbirth. Assuming you have STD benefits for your employees, make sure the duration of your leave plans conforms to the STD benefits available.
At the present time, employers across Virginia are competing to hire new employees as well as adopting policies to retain their existing workforce. Accordingly, don’t forget to let job applicants and existing employees know about any STD benefits for childbirth that now are available due to Virginia’s new law. This is a benefit that may well prove to be significant to both job applicants and employees alike.
Recent ADA Developments; Virginia Adopts Modest Maternity Benefits for Employees; Law360 Takes a Look at The Fastest Trial Courts
By: Jarrad Wright
As all business owners know, litigation can happen at any time and often where you least suspect it. While good planning and policies can reduce the chances of litigation, it is impossible to predict and prevent every possible scenario. What should you do when litigation becomes a real possibility? Besides calling able counsel, one of the first things a lawyer will tell clients to do is to preserve all documents potentially related to the matter. However, in today’s age of cloud computing, disposable devices, and social media, this can be harder than it sounds.
The duty to preserve documents begins when one reasonably anticipates litigation, and courts have imposed stiff sanctions, ranging from fines to adverse jury instructions, for failing to preserve documents. So, before litigation begins it is important to preserve everything for discovery. This includes paper files, emails, social media accounts, telephones, electronic documents, databases, and servers. While often seen as a business interruption because of the time and cost, preserving documents early on will assist your lawyers in getting ahead of discovery and in many instances becomes the key to preserving valuable communications that could win your case as well as preventing sanctions.
Many larger to middle sized companies have document preservation policies in place, but these policies are often absent in companies that do not have significant litigation experience. Whether or not a written policy exists, it is imperative for a company or individual to quickly determine where potentially relevant documents may be located and how to stop any automated procedures in place that could potentially delete or destroy those documents. Many information technology systems have automatic deletion mechanisms that need to be identified and stopped. Likewise, mundane tasks such as upgrading a smart phone can becoming a liability if the evidence is not properly preserved before getting that new phone. Knowing precisely what needs to be preserved is key and conversations with experienced counsel early in the process will help identify key witnesses and documents. Experienced litigation counsel can locate specialized experts to preserve complicated databases. That said, a business even before hiring counsel can improve its situation by taking issues directives to not delete emails and to preserve all handwritten notes. Remember that when the threat of litigation suddenly arises, taking active steps to put yourself or your business in the best position is necessary. If you’d like to discuss this further, contact Jarrad Wright at Jwright@dimuro.com.
DiMuroGinsberg, P.C. has decades of combined experience in handling document preservation and spoliation cases and is knowledgeable in all aspects of these matters.
So. You Think You Are Going to Be Sued? – Don’t Throw Anything Out; DiMuroGinsberg and The Rocket Docket; Stacey Rose Harris Becomes an Arbitrator
Local Counsel: Your Secret Weapon; The Ultimate Employment Guidebook; “It’s Déjà Vu All Over Again”
By: M. Jarrad Wright
After the most recent special General Assembly session. Virginia employers, employees and citizens understanding of what will happen with Virginia’s marijuana and cannabis rules have no new clarity. As Yankees Hall of Famer Yogi Berra once said, “it’s déjà vu all over again.”
Weren’t We Supposed to Learn More About How Selling Pot Will Work?
On July 1, 2021 Virginia became the first state in the southern United States to permit recreational marijuana. While the legalization was permanent, the mechanisms setup by the General Assembly to regulate sales, to regulate licenses, and the taxing scheme is not permanent. Those provisions required reenactment from the legislature, but since that time the Commonwealth of Virginia has elected a new Republican Governor and a Republican House of Delegates. Going into the General Assembly session, there was a lot of discussion as to how a new marijuana market would be established including who would get licenses to manufacture, how the taxes would be allocated, and who would be prioritized to get dispensary licenses. At the end of the regular session, the Democrat controlled Senate had passed a bill but the Republican controlled House took no action. In effect, all of the negotiation and speculation was for naught, and Virginia companies and citizens were left where they started – guessing what the ultimate regulatory scheme would be.
What About the Changes To Cannabis Products?
Although procedurally different, a similar result has occurred with respect to cannabis products sold throughout Virginia that contain the chemical Delta-8. During the general session, the Republican House and the Democrat Senate actually came together and overwhelmingly passed a bill that redefined Delta-8 as marijuana, which would have made it illegal for non-licensed stores to sell Delta-8 products. The bill was the result of lawmakers’ concerns that children were being specifically targeted and marketed cannabis products. As such the bill began by banning the retail sale of products that depict or are in the shape of a human, animal or vehicle, as they may be appealing to children. After receiving the bill, Republican Governor Youngkin, proposed amendments to create two new intermediate misdemeanors for possession over the legal limit of one ounce. Initially, the Democrat Senate voted to reject the Governor’s proposed amendments with the new Republican Lieutenant Governor casting the tie breaking vote. However, later Senate re-voted and decided to send the bill back to committee. Therefore, despite originally being passed with overwhelming support, the cannabis bill is no longer moving forward at this time and the Virginians are back where they started the year.
Ok, So What Now?
For cannabis, it means that for the time being the Delta-8 products that are sold throughout the nation can still be sold in Virginia. That said, the legislature did originally pass the measure with overwhelming support, so some regulation next year should be expected even if it is just the shapes measure.
For marijuana, the current legalization of possession under one ounce remains but important regulatory and employment issues remain undecided. Basic questions about the ultimate legal resell market such as what taxes apply, who can grow and who can sell are unknown. The original marijuana legislation included a reenactment clause requiring the General Assembly to affirmative revote in favor of the regulatory and taxing rules. Legal marijuana sales are not scheduled to being until January 2024. Both sides have nominally said that they agree with such sales, but the divide on the way to do it is large. New General Assembly election will not occur until November 2023. So, it is possible that the General Assembly will wait to act until a new chamber is formed, but such a delay would not give the regulators and government officials on the ground enough time to meet the January 2024 deadline for retail sales.
Finally, there are a lot of important questions for Virginia employers that have not been answered. For example, the marijuana law as currently enacted does not address legal issues such as whether or not a work place in Virginia can be required to be drug-free or whether an employer can mandate drug testing. Under current law employers can maintain drug testing policies for marijuana, and current Virginia law generally allows employers latitude in setting policies that allow them to test and to fire employees for legal drug use outside of working hours. On a practical level, this can be difficult in a state where marijuana use is legal and since marijuana can be detected in the body for a long time after use. Virginia has a medical cannabis oil law that prohibits Virginia employers from discharging or disciplining employees for the lawful use outside of the workplace of medical cannabis oil “pursuant to a valid written certification issued by a practitioner for the treatment or to eliminate the symptoms of the employee’s diagnosed condition or disease.” But for marijuana there is not similar clear statement of law to guide employers.
By: M. Jarrad Wright
Hiring local counsel should never be an afterthought in litigation. Local counsel should be more than an automatic stamp on pleadings and a means to an end of filing pleadings in a local court. Knowledgeable and capable local counsel can make a significant contribution to the successful outcome of a case. That’s because good local counsel can provide valuable insight into a judge’s inclinations, standing orders, prior decisions and memorandum opinions that may be relevant but hard to locate. Local guidance also can provide guidance on the local rules and the unwritten local practices that can make litigation proceed in a smoother fashion without last minute surprises.
This particularly is true in a jurisdiction like the Eastern District of Virginia, which has the distinction of being the fastest federal district court in the country. Commonly referred to as the “Rocket Docket,” the Eastern District of Virginia moves at a speed that is uncommon in litigation. For example, discovery motions, including complex and momentous discovery disputes, are fully briefed and argued in one week’s time. Experienced Rocket Docket local counsel will alert primary counsel to the deadlines and nuances in the local rules that dramatically speed up a case and, then, will work to ensure that nothing slips through the cracks as the rocket speeds along.
Retaining knowledgeable local counsel also is particularly important in Virginia state courts, where local rules may not be as robust, but where the quirks of local practice still exist. Having counsel knowledgeable about filing requirements and the court’s preferences can eliminate delays and other problems that prevent a successful presentation of a case.
Knowing local procedures, however, are not the only value that good local counsel offer. Local counsel can provide valuable intelligence on the jury pool because they live in the community and interact with the people there on a daily basis. Knowing where potential jurors live and how different communities feel is critical in jury selection. Indeed, even the most logical and straightforward case can be lost if the jury goes rogue. Knowing people, neighbors, and neighborhoods is a valuable insight that is often overlooked.
The attorneys at DiMuroGinsberg, P.C. have been practicing law in the northern Virginia area for decades and have a wealth of experience in litigating civil and criminal cases in state and federal courts in Virginia, including the Rocket Docket, both as primary and local counsel. If you are or will be litigating a case in Virginia, please feel free to contact us to learn more about the numerous ways in which DiMuroGinsberg may be able to assist you in the litigation.
New DOJ Opioid Guidance Puts Employers on Notice; Rocket Docket Update; Virginia Cracks Down on Employers Misclassifying Employees as Independent Contractors
As reported in an article by Jayna Genti in an earlier issue of DGRead, in 2019, then Virginia Governor Ralph Northam issued an Executive Order calling for an inter-agency task force to make recommendations on how to address the problem of companies in Virginia misclassifying their employees as independent contractors. During 2019-2020, legislation was introduced at the federal level and in at least 20 states to deal with this issue. The Virginia study results were issued in November 2020 and revealed that about 214,000 Virginia workers were misclassified as independent contractors, and this alone was costing the Commonwealth approximately $28 million in tax revenues each year.
Virginia’s New Law
In response to the task force’s recommendations, the Virginia General Assembly passed legislation in 2020 to deter companies from misclassifying their employee and penalizing those employers that have misclassified their workers. Then Governor Northam signed the legislation into law, which took effect January 1, 2021.
As set out in DGRead, the new Virginia misclassification law has some real teeth. Businesses that improperly treat their employees as independent contractors are now subject to a fine of up to $1,000 per worker for a first offense. Maximum fines will increase to $2,500 per misclassified individual for a second offense, and up to $5,000 per misclassified individual for a third or subsequent offense.
This legislation also carries the potential for companies violating this law being prohibited from being awarded public contracts. Employers that misclassify workers can be debarred for up to one year for a second offense and up to two years for a third offense. The legislation further requires the Virginia Department of Taxation to share information to help with enforcement.
Criminal Actions to Enforce the Law
To implement the new law, the Attorney General’s office set up a Worker’s Protection Unit to work with the Office of the State Inspector General, and the state first took action under the new legislation in October, 2021. The action was brought against building drywall subcontractors who were working on major construction projects in Virginia, including the building of the new Virginia General Assembly Building. Former Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring empaneled a multi-jurisdictional grand jury that returned charges against several companies, including GTO Drywall and Richmond Drywall Installers, for misclassifying workers as independent contractors rather than as employees allegedly in an effort to avoid paying taxes.
Each company was ultimately charged with ten counts of felony embezzlement. In December 2021, Richmond Drywall pled guilty to five counts of felony embezzlement and the other five counts were nolle prossed. In February, 2022 under the new administration, GTO Drywall pled guilty to five felony counts and the other five counts were similarly nolle prossed. Each company was eventually fined $2,500 for each guilty finding, plus court costs and restitution to the Virginia Department of Taxation for the unpaid taxes.
Civil Actions by Workers
But that is not where the enforcement efforts ended. Enforcement of the Virginia misclassification laws are not limited to the Commonwealth bringing a criminal action. Workers affected by their misclassification may bring a civil action for lost wages under federal and state law, which include penalties, such as trebling the damages if proven. In October 2020, laborers working for some of the same drywall subcontractors, and others, filed a class action in federal court claiming that they were improperly classified as independent contractors instead of as employees. They filed under the Virginia statute as well as the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”). See Moran, et. al. v. Agent Wall Sys., Inc. et. al., Civil Action 3:20-cv-00823- (E.D. Va. October 22, 2020). The laborers had been hired through various labor brokers, but claimed they should be considered employees of both the labor broker and the drywall subcontractor.
In December, 2020, a second group of laborers working for another subcontractor brought almost identical claims in Richmond federal court under the Virginia and the federal misclassification provisions. See Rosales, et. al. v. Capital Interior Contractors, Inc., et. al., Civil Action 3:20-cv-00916 (E.D.Va. December 1, 2020). The laborers claimed, among other things, that the subcontractor failed to pay them overtime constituting a violation of the Virginia Wage Payment Act, which would permit them to recover up to three times the amount of unpaid overtime. In January, 2022 the Rosales case settled. The defendant companies agreed to pay the Primary Group in the class action two times the amounts of alleged underpaid wages that Plaintiffs’ counsel had calculated for each participating class member, plus an additional $400 for each Plaintiff. In addition, defendants agreed to pay $86,000 for Plaintiffs’ attorney fees.
Making the Right Decision
As evidenced by the above referenced criminal and civil cases, the fallout for misclassifying an employee as an independent contractor can be substantial. Employers not only need to be concerned about federal laws prohibiting such practices; it is now clear that Virginia law similarly prohibits such practices. Wage and tax theft statutes are now in place in Virginia that are designed to compensate victims and incentivize employers’ compliance with lawful wage payment practices.
Determining whether a potential hire is an employee or an independent contractor is not always clear cut. Employers in Virginia should consult with experienced legal counsel in making their employment related decision as to how to properly classify their workers as employees or independent contractors. A wrong decision can result in criminal and civil liability.
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