In the past, it was not uncommon for employers to enforce strict confidentiality policies that limited an employee’s ability to discuss their own wage or salary information with co-workers, presumably for the purpose of deterring requests for wage increases or concealing disparate pay structures.
Passed in 2020, Virginia Code Section 40.1-28.7:9 now holds that “no employer shall discharge from employment or take other retaliatory action against an employee because the employee (i) inquired about or discussed with, or disclosed to, another employee any information about either the employee’s own wages or other compensation or about any other employee’s wages or other compensation or (ii) filed a complaint with the Department alleging a violation of this section.” However, the law does specifically address restrictions on prior employees, thereby leaving open the issue of whether employers can enforce confidentiality provisions in settlement or severance agreements entered into post-termination.
On the national level, the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) also prohibits employers from disciplining non-supervisory employees for discussing their pay with co-workers. The NLRA protects employees’ rights to engage in “protected concerted activities,” which includes discussing wages, benefits, and other working conditions with their colleagues.
In combination, these law provide protection for employees who discuss their wages with other employees, and employers who violate these protections can face legal consequences. Employees who believe they have been retaliated against for discussing their wages or for filing a complaint related to wage discrimination can file a complaint with the appropriate government agency or seek legal counsel.
Historically, the Fair Labor Standards Act has created a national minimum wage for hourly employees. Though the federal minimum wage remains at $7.25 per hour, Virginia is now among the states that have set a higher minimum wage standard under state law. The Virginia Minimum Wage Act, passed in 2020, establishes incremental wage increases that will raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2026. Effective January 1, 2023 the minimum wage in Virginia increases to $12 per hour. Absent amendments to the law, the next increase will occur in January 2025. Virginia law adopts federal exemptions under the FLSA and also includes its own exceptions, such a babysitters working fewer than 10 hours per week, students participating in a bona fide educational programs, golf caddies, taxicab drivers and persons employed in summer camps for children.
In U.S. Department of Labor v. Fire & Safety Investigation Consulting Services, the Fourth Circuit addresses an overtime claim where the employer utilized a “blended” pay scheme that changed depending on the total hours worked in a two week pay period.
The FLSA requires that covered employers pay their employees “at a rate not less than one and one-half times the regular rate for any hours worked in excess of 40 hours per workweek. At issue in this case was the definition of an employee’s “regular rate.” Typically, the regular rate is the hourly rate that the employer pays the employee for the normal, non-overtime forty hour workweek. However, in some cases, employers may attempt to assert that their pay scheme is intended to cover the base pay for all overtime hours.
In this case, the Fourth Circuit rejects the employer’s argument, cautioning that employers should not reply upon “creative” pay schemes that retroactively calculate overtime and non-overtime components for the benefit of the employer.