How Does Virginia Protect Whistleblowers from Retaliation?
Under Virginia law, a whistleblower is an employee who witnesses or has evidence of their employer’s wrongdoing or misconduct. If the whistleblower reports the alleged wrongdoing — or indicates that they will make such a report — it is unlawful for the employer to retaliate.
What Qualifies as Misconduct or Wrongdoing in Virginia?
The definitions of wrongdoing and misconduct appear in Code of Virginia 2.2-3010. Misconduct refers to employer actions or behaviors that are inconsistent with local, state, or federal standards.
Wrongdoing refers to a serious violation of established:
- Federal law;
- State law;
- Local ordinance; or
- Professional code of ethics.
What Qualifies as Employer Retaliation in Virginia?
Under Code of Virginia 2.2-3011, it is unlawful for an employer to retaliate against whistleblowers for reporting wrongdoing or misconduct. In these circumstances, employers are prevented from discharging, threatening, or discriminating against whistleblowers.
These protections apply whether the whistleblower files a claim or merely complies with government subpoenas. In other words, an employer cannot retaliate against an employee who participates in a whistleblowing investigation.
That being said, there is an important exception under Virginia law. Employers are free to discipline or discharge employees who engage in their own wrongdoing or misconduct. Stated otherwise, whistleblowers are not protected from their own misdeeds.
Do Whistleblowers Have a Good Faith Requirement in Virginia?
In order to qualify for protection under Virginia law, a whistleblower must file their report in good faith. This means that the whistleblower must have a reasonable belief that wrongdoing or misconduct occurred. There is no protection for a whistleblower who knows, or has reason to know, that their report contains inaccurate or false statements.
Can Whistleblowers File a Lawsuit for Employer Retaliation in Virginia?
In short, yes, a whistleblower can file a civil lawsuit against their employer for unlawful retaliation. The whistleblower must file the lawsuit in the same jurisdiction where they worked. And there is a three-year statute of limitations for this type of claim.
If the whistleblower proves that the employer willfully and intentionally engaged in unlawful retaliation, then the court may award civil damages of at least $500 but not more than $2,500. Those civil penalties will go into the Fraud and Abuse Whistle Blower Reward Fund. The court may also award the whistleblower with reasonable attorney’s fees and legal costs.
In addition to the aforementioned civil penalties and legal fees, the Virginia courts can also order corrective actions. Specifically, the courts may order the employer to:
- Reinstate the whistleblower to their former position;
- Provide the whistleblower with an equivalent position, if the former position is unavailable;
- Compensate the whistleblower with back pay; or
- Restore the whistleblower’s fringe benefits or seniority status.
Do You Need Legal Help?
If you are considering a whistleblower claim in Virginia, it is extremely helpful to consult with a knowledgeable employment attorney. The attorneys at Simms Showers LLP, servicing Leesburg, Winchester, Fairfax, and Manassas, have longstanding experience with whistleblower claims and other aspects of employment law in Virginia. If you need legal help in this arena, contact us today for an initial consultation.