Three New Laws Affecting West Virginia Employees Set to Go into Effect
The 2015 session of the West Virginia Legislature has resulted in numerous laws reducing the amount of protection afforded to West Virginia employees. Below you’ll find a summary of changes to laws and remedies that employees can seek in court.
1) Employers have more time to pay you after you quit or are terminated, and a longer maximum time between paychecks
As of June 11, 2015, West Virginia employers will be required to pay wages earned to a resigning or terminated employee on or before the next regular payday in the cycle. Previously, different time limits for final pay applied where an employee was terminated or resigned with no notice, and where an employee resigned with adequate notice. An employee who gave notice equal to the length of at least one pay period would have been entitled to receive a paycheck on their last day of work. An employee who resigned without notice or was terminated would have been entitled to payment either by the next pay date or within four business days, whichever came first.
The amount of liquidated damages that employees can seek for an employer’s failure to comply with final pay laws has also changed. Previously, if an employer did not pay all wages earned to an employee within the law’s time limits, then the employee could seek three times the amount of wages that the employee was owed, as a penalty against the employer. Employees may now only seek two times the amount of wages they are owed.
Finally, employers are now required to pay employees at least twice a month, with no more than 19 days between payments. The law previously required payment every two weeks.
2) Employees now have a duty to mitigate their damages from lost wages
Previously, when an employee in West Virginia sued his or her employer in court after being wrongfully terminated, he or she could seek back pay and front pay without an obligation to try and “mitigate” those damages, or reduce them by the amount the employee could have earned or did earn from finding alternate employment, where an employee was fired with “malice.” A new law, going into effect on June 8, 2015, requires an employee to look for alternate employment to mitigate lost wages and eliminates the “malice” exception to the duty to mitigate. The new law also places the determination of the amount of future pay to which the employee is entitled in the hands of a judge, rather than a trial jury.
3) Employees must meet a higher standard to win punitive damages against an employer at trial
When an employee sues an employer in West Virginia, he or she can seek punitive damages, in addition to any compensatory damages (i.e., damages in an amount that simply pay an employee what he or she is owed) or penalties that the employee can seek under state employment laws. Under a change to the law, however, an employee can only receive punitive damages where he or she proves that the employer caused some form of harm to the employee by acting with actual malice, or with a conscious, reckless, and outrageous indifference to the health, safety, and welfare of others. Essentially, this would require an employee to show that the employer acted with a higher level of intention when the employee experienced some harm, which could be much harder to prove. The changed law also caps the amount of punitive damages that an employee can seek to either four times the amount of compensatory damages, or $500,000, whichever is greater.
Increasingly, federal and state laws are shifting to erode the protections granted to employees. If you have experienced unfair treatment at the hands of your employer, seek out an attorney who will stand up for your rights and ensure that you’re paid everything you’re owed by your employer. Contact the Bayless Law Firm PLLC for a free consultation on your potential West Virginia employment claims, toll-free at 800-359-2356.