Legislation to make it easier for people to sue for unpaid wages passed the state Senate Monday, providing protection lost when the budget last year axed all funding for the state’s wage law enforcement office.
The legislation says employees have the right to sue for unpaid wages, that their attorneys’ fees would be covered if they prove their cases, and that the employer could be subject to triple damages if it deliberately didn’t pay them their full wages.
But it also says its provisions would be set aside if funding for the wage enforcement section is restored. That funding was to be $220,000 this year, before the legislature accepted Gov. Robert F. McDonnell’s proposal last year to eliminate it.
The Department of Labor and Industry declined to comment on the bill. Spokeswoman Sharon Sykes said she could not say why the funding was eliminated since that was done by the legislature.
The wage unit had recovered an average of $385,000 a year of unpaid wages over the past four years, though that is down from as much as $1.2 million in recent years, said Tim Freilich, legal director at Charlottesville’s Legal Aid Justice Center.
Earlier this month, Freilich, joined by a printing company worker from Harrisonburg who told state Senators the company has skipped paychecks owed him and several fellow employees, told senators the law was needed because of the wage enforcement unit’s closing.
The bill, SB 816, passed the Senate 40-0. A version is pending before the House of Delegates. – David Ress