Compliance Watch:
What are my rights as an hourly employee in Virginia?

January 8th 2024

In Virginia, hourly employees form a significant portion of the workforce, contributing to various industries. If you’re among the many who clock in and out each day, understanding the rights you are entitled to is of paramount importance. The rights of hourly employees are enshrined in both federal and state laws, ensuring that you are not only compensated fairly for your efforts but also provided a conducive and safe environment in which to work.

Each day, when you step into your workplace, these laws serve as a protective shield, guaranteeing a baseline of treatment that you can expect from your employer. This includes ensuring you receive at least the minimum wage for every hour worked, the right to overtime pay when you exceed certain hours, and entitlement to specific breaks during your shift.

However, these rights go beyond just compensation and breaks. Virginia law also strives to protect hourly workers from discrimination, harassment, and unjust termination. Furthermore, if you witness unethical behavior, you have the right to raise concerns or complaints about workplace conditions without the fear of retaliation. As you navigate your employment journey, being equipped with this knowledge not only empowers you but also fosters a sense of security, knowing that there are steadfast legal provisions in place to support and protect you.

This Article Covers

Defining an Hourly Employee in Virginia
Wage and Hour Regulations in Virginia
Rest Laws in Virginia
Deductions, Benefits, and Protections in Virginia
Termination of Employment in Virginia

Defining an Hourly Employee in Virginia

What is Hourly Employment in Virginia?

Hourly employment in Virginia refers to a type of employment arrangement where workers are paid for each hour they work, as opposed to receiving a fixed salary regardless of the number of hours worked. This is a common form of compensation, especially in positions where work hours can fluctuate, such as in retail, hospitality, and many service industries.

In such an employment model, the focus is on the actual hours logged in by the employee. For instance, if you’re an hourly worker and you’ve worked 40 hours in a week, you’ll receive payment for precisely those 40 hours. However, if you’ve worked more than the standard workweek, which in many cases is set at 40 hours, you might be eligible for overtime pay. Overtime pay ensures that hourly employees are compensated at a higher rate, typically one and a half times their standard hourly wage, for any hours worked beyond the standard threshold.

One of the essential components of hourly employment in Virginia is the state’s minimum wage. This rate serves as the lowest hourly amount an employer can pay a worker. The rate can change based on legislation and economic conditions, so it’s important for hourly employees to stay updated on the current minimum wage to ensure they’re receiving fair compensation.

Moreover, hourly employment also comes with certain rights and protections. For example, in Virginia, laws ensure that hourly employees receive timely breaks, overtime compensation, and are protected against workplace discrimination and harassment. These laws also ensure that hourly workers can voice concerns about their working conditions, safety measures, or any potential violations of their rights without facing retaliation from their employers.

What are the Key Differences Between Hourly and Salaried Employees in Virginia?

Here’s a table outlining the key differences between hourly and salaried employees in Virginia:

Key Differences Hourly Employee Salaried Employee
Compensation Paid based on hours worked. Fixed amount regardless of hours worked.
Overtime Pay Eligible for overtime pay for hours worked over 40/week. Typically exempt, may not receive overtime pay.
Work Hours Varying work hours, usually clock in and out. Often expected to work as needed to fulfill duties.
Benefits and Bonuses May or may not receive benefits, depending on the employer. Often receive benefits such as health insurance, PTO.
Job Security and Predictability Hours can fluctuate based on business needs. More consistent work schedule, less hourly fluctuation.
Flexibility May have fixed shifts or less flexibility in choosing hours. May have more flexibility in work hours and location.

To learn more about Virginia labor laws, you can access our guides on understanding your rights as a salaried employee in Virginia and discover how to run payroll in Virginia.

Wage and Hour Regulations in Virginia

What are the Maximum Weekly Working Hours in Virginia?

In Virginia, the concept of maximum weekly working hours for most private-sector employees is not directly determined by a specific state law. Instead, the prevailing regulations come from the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which itself doesn’t set a fixed limit on the number of hours an hourly employee can work in a week. Nevertheless, the FLSA does have provisions concerning overtime that greatly influence how many hours employees often end up working.

When we delve into the details of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), any time worked over 40 hours in a single workweek requires that hourly employees be paid at an overtime rate. This overtime rate is at least one and a half times their standard hourly wage. So, if you work 45 hours a week, you would be entitled to 5 hours of overtime pay on top of your regular wages for that week. This not only ensures that employees are compensated fairly for additional hours but also serves as a mechanism to encourage employers to manage the distribution of work hours.

It’s crucial to note that not every worker, including part-time staff, is entitled to this overtime pay. There are specific exemptions. Some salaried professionals, administrative personnel, and senior executives might not qualify for overtime as defined by the FLSA. There are also particular roles, such as certain agricultural workers, independent contractors, or specific sales roles, which operate under unique rules or may be exempt from standard overtime provisions.

Furthermore, in Virginia, there are specific regulations for some industries and categories of workers. For instance, the working hours for minors are tightly regulated. These restrictions can differ based on the minor’s age and whether it’s during a period when school is in session.

Even though there isn’t a state-imposed maximum on the number of weekly working hours, employers might have their own policies or agreements, sometimes resulting from union negotiations, that set limits or dictate additional compensation structures for working beyond the usual hours. As such, it’s always a good idea for hourly employees to be thoroughly familiar with their employment agreement and any workplace-specific policies that might be in place.

What is the Minimum Wage for Hourly Employees in Virginia?

The minimum wage is a crucial benchmark that ensures workers receive a fair wage. In Virginia, there have been recent changes to the minimum wage regulations that impact hourly employees.

Effective from January 1, 2023, through January 1, 2025, the established minimum wage in Virginia is set at a rate that’s greater than the two specified benchmarks: (i) $12.00 per hour or (ii) the federal minimum wage. What this means is that employers are mandated to pay their employees at least $12.00 per hour unless the federal minimum wage exceeds that amount during this period. In such a scenario, the higher federal rate would take precedence.

This update is part of a broader, strategic effort by Virginia to progressively adjust the state’s minimum wage to reflect the rising cost of living and ensure a fair standard of compensation for its workers. It’s an integral part of the state’s commitment to ensuring that working individuals can have a reasonable quality of life. It’s also essential for employers and employees alike to be keenly aware of these regulations, as they safeguard employees’ rights to fair compensation and inform employers about their legal obligations. Non-compliance could lead to severe legal repercussions for businesses, including penalties and requirements to pay back wages.

How Many Hours Qualify As Overtime and What is the Associated Pay in Virginia?

Overtime pay and the associated regulations ensure that employees are compensated fairly for their extended work hours. In Virginia, the rules surrounding overtime are primarily governed by the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) since, as of my last update in January 2022, Virginia does not have its own specific overtime law for private sector employees.

Under the FLSA, employees in the United States are generally considered to be working overtime when they work more than 40 hours in a single workweek. It’s important to note that the workweek is defined as a fixed and recurring period of 168 hours or seven consecutive 24-hour periods. It doesn’t necessarily have to align with the traditional calendar week; it can start on any chosen day and at any specified hour as determined by the employer.

In Virginia, for those hours worked beyond the standard 40 hours within a workweek, the FLSA mandates that non-exempt employees be paid at a rate not less than one and a half times their regular rate of pay. This means that if an employee typically earns $10 an hour, their overtime rate would be $15 an hour for every hour worked past the 40-hour threshold in a workweek.

However, there are exceptions and nuances to consider. Certain categories of employees might be exempt from the FLSA overtime requirements, such as those in executive, administrative, and professional roles, provided they meet specific criteria set forth by the FLSA. It’s essential for both employers and employees to be aware of these exemptions to ensure compliance.

Non-compliance with overtime regulations can lead to penalties for employers. They could be required to pay back wages and fines and, in some cases, even face legal action. Therefore, businesses must maintain accurate records of hours worked and ensure that they adhere to both state and federal labor laws. For the most current information, particularly if there have been any changes or updates to federal or state laws , one should refer to the U.S. Department of Labor or Virginia’s Department of Labor and Industry or consult a local labor attorney.

Rest Laws in Virginia

What are the Offered Meal and Rest Breaks for Hourly Employees in Virginia?

In Virginia, the state does not have a specific law mandating meal or rest breaks for private-sector employees. Instead, Virginia generally follows the federal regulations provided by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) on this matter. Here’s everything you need to know: 

  • Short Breaks: The FLSA does encourage short breaks (usually lasting about 5 to 20 minutes), and when they are provided by employers, they must be counted as paid time. Such short breaks are seen as beneficial because they can boost the overall productivity of the employees. These short breaks are often used for purposes like snacking, using the restroom, or just resting.
  • Meal Breaks: The FLSA does not require employers to provide meal breaks. However, if an employer does offer a meal break (typically lasting at least 30 minutes), this time does not have to be paid unless the hourly employee is required to perform hour-based duties during this period. If an employee is working while eating, then that time should be compensated.

While Virginia does not have a private sector meal or rest break law, it’s important to note that some industries or jobs, especially in high-risk areas, might have specific break requirements due to safety concerns. For example, drivers, healthcare workers, or those operating heavy machinery may have industry-specific regulations that mandate certain rest periods.

Furthermore, certain collective bargaining agreements or employment contracts might stipulate specific break times, even if state law does not require them. Both employees and employers should consult such agreements or contracts to understand any specific requirements.

What Laws Govern Time Off and Leaves for Hourly Employees in Virginia?

Navigating the legal landscape of employment can be complex, especially when it comes to understanding the provisions  related to time off and leaves. In Virginia, several laws and regulations dictate how employers should handle these essential aspects of work-life balance. Whether you’re an employer aiming to ensure compliance or an employee seeking to understand your rights, here are laws governing time off and leaves for hourly employees in Virginia:

  • Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA): The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) is a pivotal federal law that establishes standards for minimum wage, overtime pay, and youth employment. However, it does not mandate paid time off, including vacation, holidays, or sick leave for employees. Instead, such benefits are typically a matter of mutual agreement between the employer and the employee or are explicitly addressed in employment contracts.
  • Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA): The FMLA is a federal law that allows eligible employees of covered employers to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons. Employees eligible under FMLA can take up to 12 workweeks of leave in a 12-month period for reasons such as the birth of a child, to care for a spouse or a parent with a serious health condition, or if the employee themselves has a health condition that prevents them from performing their job. While the leave under FMLA is unpaid, it ensures job protection, meaning that an employee can return to their original job at the end of the leave.
  • Virginia Workers’ Compensation Act: In Virginia, the Workers’ Compensation Act provides certain benefits to hourly  employees who sustain an injury while at work or suffer from an occupational disease. While the main objective of this act is to address hefty medical expenses and wage replacement, it can also result in employees needing time off from work due to injury or illness. The duration of the time off and the compensation during this period is determined by the specifics of the injury and its impact on the employee’s ability to work.
  • Virginia Parental Leave Act: Recognizing the importance of family bonding, the state of Virginia has also adopted a Parental Leave Act. This legislation, while more limited in scope than FMLA, provides certain essential rights to employees for parental leave. Specifically, this act grants eligible employees (of covered employers) the right to take up to eight weeks of unpaid leave for pivotal events like the birth or adoption of a child. While this leave is unpaid, it importantly offers job protection, ensuring stability, similar to provisions under FMLA.
  • Local Ordinances and Employment Contracts: Apart from these statutory provisions, some localities within Virginia might have specific ordinances related to time off, especially for municipal or county workers. Moreover, employment contracts or collective bargaining agreements may have stipulations regarding leaves, vacations, or other forms of time off. Both employers and employees should be familiar with any such agreements that might be in place.

Deductions, Benefits, and Protections in Virginia

What are the Laws Regarding Pay Deductions for Hourly Employees in Virginia?

Here are the foundational laws that shape pay deductions in the state of  Virginia:

  • Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA): The FLSA is a federal statute that sets the framework for many aspects of employee wages, including pay deductions. Under the FLSA, employers cannot make deductions from an employee’s wages that drop the employee’s effective hourly rate below the federal minimum wage. Additionally, deductions for items that are considered primarily for the benefit or convenience of the employer (e.g., uniforms) are generally not permissible if they reduce the employee’s wages below the minimum wage or cut into overtime compensation.

Virginia Wage Payment Act

The Virginia Wage Payment Act provides specific guidelines for how and when employers can make deductions from an hourly (as well as salaried) employee’s wages. As per this act:

  • With Employee Consent: Deductions can be made when the employer has written consent from the employee for such deductions. This is commonly seen in scenarios like health insurance premiums, union dues, or retirement contributions where the employee has opted in.
  • Court-ordered Deductions: These include wage garnishments for child support payments or other mandated obligations. When an employer receives a court order for such deductions, they are legally obligated to withhold the specified amount from the employee’s wages.
  • Overpayment Corrections: If an employer has mistakenly overpaid an employee, they may correct the error by deducting the overpaid amount from future wages, as long as they provide the employee with written notice of the amount and reason for such deduction.
  • Deductions for Breakages, Cash Shortages, and Equipment: Virginia law is explicit that employers cannot make deductions for cash shortages, damages, or losses. Such deductions are permissible only if the employee has willfully or negligently failed to follow established procedures, and importantly, the employer has provided the employee with a detailed written notice of the amount to be deducted at least seven days prior to the paycheck being issued.
  • Other Notable Considerations: It’s vital and essential to understand that even if a pay deduction is legally permissible, it absolutely can’t reduce an employee’s effective hourly wage to an amount below the state-mandated minimum wage. Furthermore, employees are staunchly protected against retaliation for querying or filing official complaints about wage deductions.

What are the Hourly Employees Entitlements Under Virginia State Law?

Hourly employees in Virginia have a range of entitlements that are established to ensure they are treated fairly in the workplace. Virginia has made efforts to provide a comprehensive set of rules and regulations to protect the rights and interests of its hourly employees. 

Here are the major entitlements for hourly employees under Virginia state law:

  • Minimum Wage: Virginia’s minimum wage is established to ensure that hourly employees are paid a basic amount. Periodically reviewed, the rate can be adjusted over time to reflect economic conditions. Employers are mandated to pay at least the state’s stipulated minimum wage unless the federal minimum wage is higher, in which case the higher amount prevails.
  • Overtime Compensation: While Virginia doesn’t have its own distinct specific overtime law, it steadfastly adheres to the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Under this foundational act, hourly employees are generally entitled to overtime pay at a rate of one and a half times their regular hourly rate for all hours worked over the standard 40 in a given workweek.
  • Breaks and Rest Periods: Virginia does not have a specific law that requires private employers to provide meal or rest breaks. However, if an employer chooses to provide a short break (usually 5 to 20 minutes), the FLSA stipulates that it must be paid. Meal breaks (typically 30 minutes or more) do not need to be paid as long as the employee is free from work duties.
  • Deductions from Wages: Virginia law restricts employers from making certain deductions from an employee’s wages. For example, deductions for cash shortages, damages, or losses are only allowed if an employee has willfully or negligently failed to follow established procedures and the employer has given written notice to the employee about the deduction.
  • Pay Statement: Employers in Virginia are required to provide, on or before each payday, a comprehensive written statement detailing the gross wages earned by the employee during the respective pay period, along with the precise amount and clear purpose of any deductions made.
  • Timely Payment: The Virginia Wage Payment Act mandates that employers must pay at least once every two weeks or twice each month. Exceptions apply to certain executive personnel.
  • Virginia Workers’ Compensation Act: Hourly employees who sustain an injury at work or suffer from an occupational disease are entitled to benefits under the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Act. This coverage might include medical treatment, wage replacement, and more, depending on the specific nature and severity of the injury or illness they encounter.

What are the Provided Hourly Employee Protections Under Virginia State Law?

Here’s a breakdown for hourly employee protections in Virginia:

  • Child Labor Restrictions: Virginia’s child labor laws are designed to ensure the safety and well-being of working minors. Minors under the age of 14 are generally prohibited from most forms of employment, except in specific roles such as newspaper delivery or acting. For those aged 14-15, there are distinct restrictions on working hours, types of jobs, and conditions, preventing them from undertaking hazardous tasks. Those aged 16-17 also have certain limitations, especially around the hours they can work during school sessions and weekends.
  • Retaliation Protections: Employees in Virginia are safeguarded against retaliation for asserting their rights. This means if an employee either files a wage claim, reports a suspected violation of wage laws, or participates in an investigation, the employer is prohibited from taking adverse action against them, including firing, demotion, or any form of discrimination.
  • Lien for Unpaid Wages: Virginia provides a legal avenue for hourly employees to ensure they are paid the wages they are rightfully owed. If an employer fails to pay the required wages, an employee can establish a lien against the employer’s property. This provision essentially prioritizes the employee’s claim, ensuring they have a better chance of receiving the wages they are due, especially if the employer is facing severe financial difficulties or bankruptcy.

Termination of Employment in Virginia

What are the Termination Laws for Hourly Employees in Virginia?

Here is a detailed overview of the termination laws for hourly employees in Virginia:

  • At-Will Employment Doctrine: In Virginia, the predominant principle governing employment relationships is the “at-will” doctrine. This permits both the employer and the employee to terminate the employment at any time, for any reason or no reason, as long as the reason isn’t illegal. While this offers flexibility, it also means that job security can be uncertain unless there are other contractual agreements or statutory protections in place.
  • Virginia Human Rights Act (VHRA): The VHRA stands as a bulwark against discriminatory employment practices in Virginia. It stipulates that employers cannot make employment decisions, including terminations, based on protected characteristics such as race, color, religion, national origin, sex, and several others. Employees who believe they’ve been unjustly terminated due to discrimination can seek remedies under this Act.
  • Virginia Whistleblower Protection: This protection is extremely important for employees who shed light on unlawful activities within an organization. Virginia law safeguards employees who, in good faith, report violations or refuse to engage in illegal actions. If an employee faces termination for such whistleblowing activities, the employer can be held legally accountable.
  • Public Policy Exception: Even in an at-will state like Virginia, there are limits to employer freedoms. The public policy exception ensures that employers cannot terminate employees for reasons that would contravene the state’s broader societal values or principles. For instance, if an employee was unjustly fired for exercising a legal right or diligently reporting a violation of law, it might fall squarely under this exception, making the termination potentially unlawful.
  • Contractual Obligations: While not unique to Virginia, contractual obligations can override the general at-will principle. If an hourly employee and employer have entered into a contract that stipulates terms of employment and termination, those contractual terms must be respected. Breaching these terms can result in legal ramifications for the party in violation.

Should Severance Pay Be Provided to Hourly Employees in Virginia?

In the state of Virginia, severance pay is not mandated by state law for hourly employees or for any employees, for that matter. This means that employers are generally not required to provide severance pay to an employee upon termination of employment. However, the provision of severance pay is not entirely left to the whims of the employer. It can be influenced by:

  • Employment Contracts: If an employer has an employment contract or a written policy that specifies the provision of severance pay upon termination, then the employer is obligated to adhere to the terms of that contract or policy. Whether an hourly employee or a salaried one, if the contract states that severance pay will be given, then it must be provided as specified.
  • Company Policy or Practice: Some companies, even in the absence of a contractual obligation, have established policies of providing severance pay. This might be to maintain a positive company reputation, foster goodwill, or aid in smoother transitions. If an employer has a history or policy of providing severance pay, they might be expected to maintain that practice for fairness and consistency, though they are not legally obligated by Virginia state law.
  • Federal Implications: It’s also essential to note the role of federal laws. The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act requires employers to provide notice 60 days in advance of plant closings and covered mass layoffs. While this act doesn’t mandate severance pay, some employers offer it as part of a larger severance package in such cases.

Final Thoughts

In Virginia, hourly employees are afforded a range of rights and protections, from the nuances of at-will employment to the specifics of anti-discrimination statutes. While the state offers foundational guidelines, it’s crucial for workers to familiarize themselves with both state and federal laws. Empowerment stems from knowledge, so staying informed ensures that hourly employees in Virginia can advocate effectively for their rights and fair treatment.

Important Cautionary Note

When making this guide, we have tried to make it accurate, but we do not give any guarantee that the information provided is correct or up-to-date. We therefore strongly advise you to seek advice from qualified professionals before acting on any information provided in this guide. We do not accept any liability for any damages or risks incurred for the use of this guide.