In a significant move towards promoting transparency and accountability in the workplace, Virginia recently enacted Virginia Code § 40.1-28.01, which places limitations on employers’ use of nondisclosure and confidentiality agreements concerning claims of sexual assault and harassment. The statute provides that no employer shall require an employee or a prospective employee to execute or renew any provision in a nondisclosure or confidentiality agreement, including any provision relating to non-disparagement, that has the purpose or effect of concealing the details relating to a claim of sexual assault or a claim of sexual harassment as a condition of employment. Any such provision is against public policy and is void and unenforceable.
While the term “sexual assault” is not explicitly defined in the statute, the law specifically applies to claims arising under Virginia laws related to rape, forcible sodomy, aggravated sexual battery, and sexual battery. The statute defines sexual harassment as “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when such conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.”
Crucially, the law is narrowly tailored to apply to applicants and current employees, arguably leaving room for nondisclosure or confidentiality agreements with former employees. This means that provisions commonly found in severance and settlement agreements, which are executed post-employment, will likely remain unaffected by this legislation.
In Virginia, the ability to access employee personnel files varies between private and public sector employees. Absent a subpoena or litigation discovery process, private sector employees in Virginia do not have a statutory right to obtain a copy of their complete personnel files, which are considered the property of the employer. In contrast, public sector employees in Virginia generally have the right to review their personnel files.
Job and Pay Information
However, Virginia law does guarantee access to certain information for all employees. VA Code § 8.01-413.1(B), mandates that employers furnish employees, upon written request, copies of employment records reflecting:
- Dates of Employment
- Wages or Salary Information
- Job Description and Title
- Work-Related Injuries
Employers are obligated to respond to employee requests within 30 days. If this timeframe is unattainable, the employer may extend the response period by an additional 30 days upon providing a written explanation of the reason for the delay. The employer may charge a reasonable fee for the records. If the records or papers are kept in paper or hard copy format, the employer may charge a reasonable fee per page for copying. If the records or papers are kept in electronic format, the employer may charge a reasonable fee for the electronic records.
Should an employer fail to comply with a written request, the employee may obtain a subpoena duces tecum, as stipulated in VA Code § 8.01-413.1(C). If a court determines that an employer willfully refused compliance, whether by ignoring subsequent requests or imposing excessive charges, the court may award damages for all expenses incurred by the employee to obtain such copies, including a refund of fees if payment has been made for such copies, court costs, and reasonable attorney fees.
Effective 2022, Virginia law now requires that employers of 25 or more employees post information on seizure first aid in a common area in the employer’s workplace. For the purposes of this section, “seizure first aid” means procedures to respond, attend, and provide comfort and safety to an individual suffering from a seizure. “Seizure first aid” does not include training to medically treat an individual suffering from a seizure. The poster can be downloaded from the Virginia Department of Labor at https://www.doli.virginia.gov/wp-content/uploads/2022/06/SFA-Flier_VALabor_8.5×11.pdf