This is a sponsored column by attorneys John V. Berry and Kimberly H. Berry of Berry & Berry, PLLC, an employment and labor law firm located in Plaza America in Reston that specializes in federal employee, security clearance, retirement and private sector employee matters.
By John V. Berry, Esq.
Virginia Delegate Chris Hurst has introduced new legislation that he hopes will reduce incidents of workplace violence in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Specifically, the proposed legislation would grant civil immunity to employers who share information about violent acts or threats made by current or former employees with potential employers or law enforcement.
In addition, a job candidate would not be able to sue a current or former employer for sharing his or her previous violent or threatening behavior with a prospective employer that will impact a hiring decision.
Delegate Hurst’s House Bill (HB 1457) would allow hiring managers to openly discuss job candidates with their current, prospective or former employers. The text of the proposed law reads as follows:
- 8.01-226.10:1. Immunity of employers and potential employers; reports of violent behavior.
- Any employer who, in good faith with reasonable cause, makes or causes to be made a voluntary report about violent or threatened violent behavior, by an employee or former employee to a potential employer of such employee, or to any law-enforcement officer or agency, shall be immune from civil liability for making such report, provided that the employer is not acting in bad faith. An employer shall be presumed to be acting in good faith. The presumption of good faith shall be rebutted if it is shown by clear and convincing evidence that the employer knew such report was false, or made such report with reckless disregard for whether such report was false or not.
- Any potential employer who receives a report from an employer pursuant to subsection B of an employee or potential employee and takes reasonable action in good faith to respond to the violent or threatened violent behavior noted in such report shall be immune from civil liability for such action.
- Any employer or potential employer who has a suit dismissed against him pursuant to the immunity provided by this section shall be awarded reasonable attorney fees and costs.
Understandably, former employers would like the freedom to discuss workplace incidents by former employees with other employers without being subject to potential liability. However, some problems with this potential law relate to how to do so in a way that protects an employee’s rights or does not place him or her on some type of permanent “do not hire” list. Oftentimes, employees are wrongfully terminated or accused of significant misconduct (even about alleged threats) that is not true. As a result, some supervisors or employers may feel free to exaggerate or retaliate against a former employee under this new law.
The new proposed law requires the employee or applicant to prove by clear and convincing evidence that any false comments were known to be false or made with reckless disregard. A better route would be to lower this standard due to former supervisors or employers who make it difficult for a former employee to get a job by making false statements about him or her.
Something should be done to help alleviate workplace violence, but the proposed legislation may not be enough to ensure the protection of employees given that an employer could potentially pass false information against a former employee that could cause him or her to not get hired.
Our law firm represents and advises employees on employment-related matters in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia. If you need legal assistance, please contact our office at (703) 668-0070 or at www.berrylegal.com to schedule a consultation. Please also visit and like us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/BerryBerryPllc.
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