Arlington, VA

This is a sponsored column by attorneys John Berry and Kimberly Berry of Berry & Berry, PLLC, an employment and labor law firm located in Northern Virginia that specializes in federal employee, security clearance, retirement and private sector employee matters.

By John V. Berry, Esq.

The pending decisions by the Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) and Arlington County Public Schools (APS) about in-person instruction in the fall due to the COVID-19 pandemic have been an important issue for many individuals in Northern Virginia.

A number of families recently filed a complaint against FCPS on May 8, 2020, alleging a systemic lack of instruction given to Fairfax students with disabilities or special education needs. The complaint appears to be one of the first complaints on behalf of special needs students affected by online instruction and the pandemic. A federal class action was recently filed in court alleging similar issues against the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in a recent lawsuit.

The Recent FCPS Issues and Complaint

Given recent news, Governor Ralph Northam is re-opening public schools in the fall, leaving significant discretion to counties. Individual counties will have significant flexibility in re-opening their schools.

Those families with special education needs and Individual Education Plans (commonly known as IEPs) are especially concerned. These students are substantially more affected than other students due to the lack of in-person instruction in schools. As a result, Fairfax County families filed a complaint against FCPS with the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE), alleging a failure to provide equal learning opportunities to students with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some of the examples cited in the May 8, 2020 complaint included requiring special education students to follow online classes for only portions of the day. Many students, given their disabilities, were unable to do so. Other students with disabilities were allegedly told that their specialized instruction would only begin when in-person school re-opens.

Federal Law Requires Protection of Those with Disabilities

There are several laws that protect students with disabilities. Principal among these is the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), 20 U.S.C.§ 1400. Pursuant to federal law, children with learning disabilities must receive specialized instruction in order to provide them with a level playing field with those that do not suffer from such disabilities.

IDEA is a law that makes available a free appropriate public education to eligible children with disabilities throughout the nation and ensures special education and related services to those children. IDEA governs how states and public government agencies provide early intervention, special education, and related services to the almost seven million eligible children with disabilities.

However, according to the complaint the problem has been that FCPS was allegedly “pausing” such education until schools physically re-opened. As of this writing, there were at least three federal court cases filed in different jurisdictions nationally against other school systems regarding the lack of specialized instruction for special education students under IDEA. Further delays or curtailing of in-person special education may lead to additional lawsuits.

Difficulties Faced by Those with Learning Disabilities and Online Education

Families in the complaint have alleged that FCPS left children behind that need special education instruction behind due to the lack of in-person education. Many of the students involved in the complaint against FCPS have autism and dyslexia. While it is undoubtedly difficult for FCPS to have maneuvered these issues in March or April, there is hope that FCPS will strive to provide in-person education for healthy students, with proper protections, for those with special educational needs.

According to one of the parents of a child in the complaint, FCPS requested a delay in responding to parents’ complaint until June 11, 2020, which was granted. However, FCPS may have submitted their response past the business hours deadline on June 11, 2020. It is unknown whether VDOE will accept an after-hours response as of this writing.

Conclusion

Findings in the complaint by VDOE are due on July 7, 2020, unless further delays occur. Hopefully, FCPS, APS and other school systems will address the needs of affected special needs students. If interested in the complaint process or for more information, parents can contact VDOE here.

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This is a sponsored column by attorneys John Berry and Kimberly Berry of Berry & Berry, PLLC, an employment and labor law firm located in Northern Virginia that specializes in federal employee, security clearance, retirement and private sector employee matters.

By John V. Berry, Esq.

Given the pandemic, and the current state of the economy, many employment lawyers for businesses and employees are preparing for a number of lawsuits related to COVID-19. There are many different types of potential employee civil claims that will ultimately arise as a result of the pandemic, the economy, layoffs and terminations.

The following are just a few examples of the type of litigation that may be on the horizon.

Negligence Claims Against Employers

One of the first types of claims that we expect to see in the near future are lawsuits filed by employees related to them getting sick from COVID-19.

It is likely that we will see some employees claim that they were subjected to work-related risks and were infected by COVID-19 as a result. It is too early to see whether or not Virginia, different states or the federal government will enact legislation limiting liability for these employers. Some of these claims may likely be based on employers that did not follow the letter of Executive Orders from the Governor or other relevant government medical authorities.

Some states may decide to make employers immune from such liability by expanding workers’ compensation coverage to make it easier to claim injuries without proof that it occurred at work. This would essentially shift liability from businesses to the state or create a hybrid solution. Businesses are likely to need this type of relief from the state.

Discrimination Claims Against Employers

One of the other types of claims that we are likely to see by employees involves discrimination claims with respect to pandemic-related terminations and layoffs. These are likely to be claims arguing that some employees were retained or terminated in a discriminatory fashion. For instance, we may see arguments that retention of employees was illegally based on race or sex.

Claims for Unpaid Wages

Another area that we are likely to see employee lawsuits filed over involve unpaid wage claims related to the pandemic.  Many employers have been adversely affected and became insolvent immediately, unable to pay employees. Other employers may have thought that they could delay payment of wages to employees during the pandemic, which is illegal.  In either case, a number of employees are likely to file such claims in the coming weeks and months.

Contact Us

It is too soon to tell all the ways in which the pandemic will affect employer-employee claims, but they are likely coming in the near future. If you are in need of employment law representation or advice, please contact our office at 703-668-0070 or through our contact page to schedule a consultation. Please also visit and like us on Facebook or Twitter.

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This is a sponsored column by attorneys John Berry and Kimberly Berry of Berry & Berry, PLLC, an employment and labor law firm located in Northern Virginia that specializes in federal employee, security clearance, retirement and private sector employee matters.

By John V. Berry, Esq.

The Commonwealth of Virginia enacted a number of new employment laws this year, completely transforming employee rights as never before.

One of these new employment laws in Virginia involves providing Whistleblower rights for employees. In the past, employees had to rely on a very weak system of whistleblower protection that was developed through the courts and case law. Essentially, there was little protection for those terminated for blowing the whistle on an employer’s illegal conduct. That has now changed and this article discusses the new Virginia Whistleblower legislation.

Virginia’s New Whistleblower Law

Virginia’s new whistleblower law, enacted in House Bill 798, was sponsored by State Delegate Karrie Delaney, was signed into law on April 11, 2020, by Governor Ralph Northam and becomes effective on July 1, 2020.

The new law prohibits employers from discharging, disciplining, threatening, discriminating against, or penalizing an employee or from taking other retaliatory action with respect to the employee’s compensation, terms, conditions, location or privileges of employment.

How an Employee May Be Protected Under the Whistleblower Protection Law

An employee may be protected by Virginia’s new Whistleblower Protection Law if they:

(1) Report in good faith (or cause another employee to report in good faith) a violation of state law, federal law, or regulation to a supervisor, law enforcement or to any governmental body (e.g., Fairfax/Arlington County, City of Alexandria, federal government authorities).

(2) Are asked by law enforcement or a governmental body to participate in an investigation, hearing or inquiry.

(3) Refuse to commit a criminal act for the employer that would expose the employee to potential criminal liability.

(4) Refuse an employer’s order to perform an act that would violate any federal or state law or regulation (and explain to their employer that their refusal is based on potentially violating the law).

(5) Testify before law enforcement or a governmental body if it is connected to an investigation of an employer’s unlawful conduct.

Employee Remedies

If an employee is subject to whistleblower retaliation, then she/he may file a lawsuit within a year of the retaliation. Courts in Virginia may issue an injunction against the employer’s retaliation, reinstate a wrongfully terminated employee, provide appropriate backpay, attorneys fees and compensation and costs.

The law is new and more complex than provided in this article so it is important to obtain legal advice if a suspected case of retaliation develops.

Contact Us

If you are in need of employment law representation or advice, please contact our office at 703-668-0070 or through our contact page to schedule a consultation. Please also visit and like us on Facebook or Twitter.

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This is a sponsored column by attorneys John Berry and Kimberly Berry of Berry & Berry, PLLC, an employment and labor law firm located in Northern Virginia that specializes in federal employee, security clearance, retirement and private sector employee matters.

By Kimberly Berry

Our law firm handles many different types of federal retirement issues in our representation of federal employees.

One of the more common types of retirement cases that we often handle involves the representation of federal employees in the disability retirement process before various federal agencies and the Office of Personnel Management.

Federal employees filing for disability retirement are typically covered under the Federal Employees Retirement System or the Civil Service Retirement System.

Federal employees should consider the following questions before they pursue OPM disability retirement:

How serious are the federal employee’s medical issues and are they linked to the federal employee’s position description duties?

When making a disability retirement decision, keep in mind that OPM evaluates your continued ability to work with your medical condition in the context of the duties described in your position description. If the medical disability is not deemed serious enough, or not fully supported by medical documentation and evidence, and is not sufficiently linked to your inability to “usefully and efficiently” carry out your job duties, then OPM may deny the disability retirement application.

How long is the medical disability realistically expected to last?

OPM requires that a medical disability be expected to last at least one year in duration. When considering whether to file for disability retirement, it is important for you to consider the expected duration of your medical disability. Disabilities with known shorter duration could be problematic for you in the application process.

Can a federal employee survive on a reduced annuity?

If you are considering filing for OPM disability retirement, understand that this type of retirement usually provides you with a lower monthly retirement annuity in comparison to full retirement. As a result, we recommend that you obtain benefit estimates from your human resources representative and consult with a financial advisor about the impact of a potential reduced annuity prior to filing for disability retirement.

Are there modifications to a federal employee’s current position that can be made to allow the federal employee to continue to work?

Oftentimes a federal agency will work with you to provide you with a reasonable accommodation (i.e., change in duties, hours, telework or other adjustments) that can make your current position and medical condition workable. This can often be the best solution, even if it is only a short-term solution.

As a part of the disability retirement process, the federal agency is required to certify that it is unable to accommodate your disabling medical condition in your present position. The agency must also certify that it has considered you “for any vacant position in the same agency, at the same grade or pay level, and within the same commuting area, for which [you] qualified for reassignment.”

Do your medical professionals believe that you should not continue in your current position?

This is an important consideration when filing for disability retirement. In most cases, physicians will be open with their patients about whether it is a good idea to keep working in their current federal employment position.

There are at least two reasons to discuss a possible filing for OPM disability retirement with your treating medical provider(s). First, your health should be of primary importance and a consideration when determining whether continuing in a job hinders or impedes your recovery. Second, physicians and their medical opinions are necessary and, in fact, crucial in the disability retirement application process with OPM.

OPM will require a physician’s statement about your medical issues, and the physician’s statement can either make or break the outcome of your disability retirement application.

When considering OPM disability retirement, it is important to obtain the advice and representation of legal counsel. You can contact our law firm through www.retirementlaw.com, www.berrylegal.com, or by telephone at (703) 668-0070, to schedule a consultation to discuss your individual federal employment retirement matter. Please also visit and like us on Facebook or Twitter.

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This is a sponsored column by attorneys John Berry and Kimberly Berry of Berry & Berry, PLLC, an employment and labor law firm located in Northern Virginia that specializes in federal employee, security clearance, retirement and private sector employee matters.

By John V. Berry, Esq.

Employees in the Commonwealth of Virginia have a number of forums for potentially filing a sexual harassment complaint.

First, employees must determine whether the facts in their case constitute sexual harassment. The general definition of sexual harassment, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), is that it includes “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.”

The harassment victim can be either a woman or a man. Additionally, the harassment victim does not have to be of the opposite sex. That being said, sexual harassment does not always have to be of a sexual nature, however, and can include offensive remarks about a person’s gender/sex. Harassing an individual by making offensive comments about his or her gender can constitute sexual harassment.

Additionally, when more minor comments or teasing are made on a continuing basis, a hostile work environment based on sexual harassment can arise. Additional EEOC regulations and guidance on sexual harassment can be viewed here.

Harassment Complaints for Federal Employees in Virginia

For federal employees in Virginia, the usual method of filing an Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) complaint alleging sexual harassment is to go through their federal agency’s EEO office within 45 days of the date of the harassment. This very short deadline can usually be satisfied by initiating contact directly with a federal EEO counselor. Federal agencies will provide contact information for federal EEO complaint counselors to federal employees.

The formal complaint process involving the claims of sexual harassment will follow thereafter if the matter is not resolved. There are also other less common routes for filing a federal employee sexual harassment complaint, such as filing a grievance (where permitted, but not usually recommended) and/or a complaint though the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), but these are usually not effective when compared to a federal employee’s options for filing an EEO complaint.

Harassment Complaints for Private Sector Employees in Virginia

For employees who are employed by private companies in Virginia, there are a number of potential options for filing a sexual harassment complaint depending on where they live and the size of their employer. A private sector employee employed by a company with 15 employees or more may file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which is the most common route for those employed by private companies.

The deadline for doing so in Virginia is generally 180 days, which can be extended to 300 days due to a work-sharing agreement between Virginia and the EEOC.

A private sector employee can also usually file a sexual harassment complaint with the Virginia Division of Human Rights (DHR) if their employer has 6 to 14 employees, but less than 15. Additionally, if the matter involves a government contractor, a private sector employee can also file a harassment complaint with the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP), but this complaint process is rarely used.

Lastly, some counties and municipalities in Virginia have enacted harassment ordinances, such as Fairfax County and Arlington County, which also have procedures for filing complaints against employers. The deadlines for county filings can vary between 180 and 365 days depending on the county. In sum, it is important to figure out the correct forum and to file a claim well in advance of any deadlines.

Harassment Complaints for State Employees of the Commonwealth of Virginia

State employees who are employed by the Commonwealth of Virginia have somewhat different sexual harassment complaint options.

These include the possibility of filing a complaint with the Virginia Department of Human Resource Management, Office of Equal Employment Opportunity Services (OEES) or the EEOC. The current Executive Order governing state employees was issued in 2014.  State employees should consult with an attorney before deciding which forum is best for their sexual harassment complaint.

Harassment Complaints for County and Local Employees in Virginia

Finally, employees of Virginia’s various counties and municipalities also have options for filing a sexual harassment complaint. They may typically file harassment complaints with the EEOC, or if covered by their county or municipality, a local claim. By far, the majority of county employees take their cases to the EEOC and then to the court, if their matter is not resolved.

Talk to an Attorney to Determine the Best Forum

It is very important to speak with an attorney before choosing a forum in which to file a sexual harassment complaint since the correct forum for filing complaints can vary based on the facts of the claim, location and size of the employer, and nature of the employer.

If you need assistance with filing a sexual harassment complaint, 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.

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This is a sponsored column by attorneys John Berry and Kimberly Berry of Berry & Berry, PLLC, an employment and labor law firm located in Northern Virginia that specializes in federal employee, security clearance, retirement and private sector employee matters.

By John V. Berry, Esq.

Virginia employees, if House Bill 123 is signed by Governor Ralph Northam or not otherwise acted upon by April 6, 2020, will have new rights to wages that are unlawfully unpaid.

Virginia House Bill 123 has been passed by both the Virginia House and Senate. The new legislation would create a private right of action for collecting unpaid wages in Virginia. House Bill 123 allows employees that have not been paid to sue an employer to recover their pay, in addition to damages.

Details of Employer Damages and Penalties

House Bill 123 permits Virginia employees to bring claims against employers that fail to pay wages and allows them to recover the wages owed, plus 8% interest from the date that the wages were due. Employees can also be awarded triple damages (3 times the amount of unpaid wages), their attorney’s fees and other costs if a court finds that the employer knowingly failed to pay the wages.

In our experience, most employers are aware that they did not pay wages owed to an employee. There is also a $1,000 civil penalty against the employe for a violation.

Example: Under the law, for example, if an employer fails to pay an employee $1,000 that they earned, they could be liable for that amount, plus 8%, potentially 3 times the wages that were not paid, along with attorney’s fees incurred by the employee, and a civil penalty.

The $1,000 that was unpaid could easily become a judgment against the employer for $5,000 to $8,000 by the time damages and fees are included. Then the civil penalty would also need to be added. If a court finds that there is a genuine dispute between an employer and employee, the employer would not be required to pay triple damages.

Criminal Penalties for Employer Apply

There are also criminal law penalties in the new law. Employers could be found guilty of a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 12 months in jail, if the wages owed are less than $10,000. Employers are to be considered guilty of a felony, punishable by a prison term of up to five years, if the value of wages owed is at least $10,000 or if the employer previously had been convicted of such a violation.

Criminal liability now only applies if the nonpayment of wages was willful with the intent to defraud. If signed by the Governor or allowed to become law, the legislation would take effect July 1, 2020.

Contact Us

If you are in need of employment law representation or advice, please contact our office at 703-668-0070 or through our contact page to schedule a consultation. Please also visit and like us on Facebook or Twitter.

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This is a sponsored column by attorneys John Berry and Kimberly Berry of Berry & Berry, PLLC, an employment and labor law firm located in Northern Virginia that specializes in federal employee, security clearance, retirement and private sector employee matters.

By John V. Berry, Esq.

Many Virginians have recently found themselves laid off or otherwise out of work due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, unemployment compensation benefits are needed like never before. This is a short article on the unemployment claims process in Virginia and benefits in light of new legislation.

Benefits for affected employees can be sought through the Virginia Employment Commission (VEC). Employees who have been laid off, terminated or otherwise had their hours reduced can qualify. Here is a link to the VEC directions for initiating a claim.

Changes to Unemployment Claims Related to COVID-19

On March 12, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) also provided additional guidance to state unemployment agencies interpreting unemployment benefits related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The DOL offered states guidance in being flexible in awarding unemployment compensation to those affected.

As of March 15, the Commonwealth of Virginia waived the one-week waiting period for the unemployed to receive unemployment benefits. The effect of this change is that out of work Virginians can receive unemployment compensation benefits sooner.

Another change is that a claimant in Virginia has usually had to show that they were actively seeking new work, but Virginia changed this requirement in light of COVID-19 for obvious reasons.

Lastly, Virginia is in the process of making unemployment compensation benefits available to the self-employed (1099 and Gig Economy workers) pursuant to an order from Governor Northam.

To file for unemployment compensation in Virginia, please apply at www.vec.virginia.gov. It is also recommended to file as soon as possible so that benefits can start as soon as possible.

Contact Us

If you are in need of employment law representation or advice, please contact our office at 703-668-0070 or through our contact page to schedule a consultation. Please also visit and like us on Facebook or Twitter.

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This is a sponsored column by attorneys John Berry and Kimberly Berry of Berry & Berry, PLLC, an employment and labor law firm located in Northern Virginia that specializes in federal employee, security clearance, retirement and private sector employee matters.

By Kimberly Berry

Our law firm handles many different types of federal retirement issues in our representation of federal employees.

One of the more common types of retirement cases that we often handle involves the representation of federal employees in the disability retirement process before various federal agencies and the Office of Personnel Management.

Federal employees filing for disability retirement are typically covered under the Federal Employees Retirement System or the Civil Service Retirement System.

Federal employees should consider the following questions before they pursue OPM disability retirement:

How serious are the federal employee’s medical issues and are they linked to the federal employee’s position description duties?

When making a disability retirement decision, keep in mind that OPM evaluates your continued ability to work with your medical condition in the context of the duties described in your position description. If the medical disability is not deemed serious enough, or not fully supported by medical documentation and evidence, and is not sufficiently linked to your inability to “usefully and efficiently” carry out your job duties, then OPM may deny the disability retirement application.

How long is the medical disability realistically expected to last?

OPM requires that a medical disability be expected to last at least one year in duration. When considering whether to file for disability retirement, it is important for you to consider the expected duration of your medical disability. Disabilities with known shorter duration could be problematic for you in the application process.

Can a federal employee survive on a reduced annuity?

If you are considering filing for OPM disability retirement, understand that this type of retirement usually provides you with a lower monthly retirement annuity in comparison to full retirement. As a result, we recommend that you obtain benefit estimates from your human resources representative and consult with a financial advisor about the impact of a potential reduced annuity prior to filing for disability retirement.

Are there modifications to a federal employee’s current position that can be made to allow the federal employee to continue to work?

Oftentimes a federal agency will work with you to provide you with a reasonable accommodation (i.e., change in duties, hours, telework or other adjustments) that can make your current position and medical condition workable. This can often be the best solution, even if it is only a short-term solution.

As a part of the disability retirement process, the federal agency is required to certify that it is unable to accommodate your disabling medical condition in your present position. The agency must also certify that it has considered you “for any vacant position in the same agency, at the same grade or pay level, and within the same commuting area, for which [you] qualified for reassignment.”

Do your medical professionals believe that you should not continue in your current position?

This is an important consideration when filing for disability retirement. In most cases, physicians will be open with their patients about whether it is a good idea to keep working in their current federal employment position.

There are at least two reasons to discuss a possible filing for OPM disability retirement with your treating medical provider(s). First, your health should be of primary importance and a consideration when determining whether continuing in a job hinders or impedes your recovery. Second, physicians and their medical opinions are necessary and, in fact, crucial in the disability retirement application process with OPM.

OPM will require a physician’s statement about your medical issues, and the physician’s statement can either make or break the outcome of your disability retirement application.

When considering OPM disability retirement, it is important to obtain the advice and representation of legal counsel. You can contact our law firm through www.retirementlaw.com, www.berrylegal.com, or by telephone at (703) 668-0070, to schedule a consultation to discuss your individual federal employment retirement matter. Please also visit and like us on Facebook or Twitter.

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This is a sponsored column by attorneys John Berry and Kimberly Berry of Berry & Berry, PLLC, an employment and labor law firm located in Northern Virginia that specializes in federal employee, security clearance, retirement and private sector employee matters.

By John V. Berry, Esq.

Government contractors, federal employees and military personnel holding security clearances have a duty to self-report security issues that happen between investigations.

Not reporting timely security concerns can lead to a loss of one’s security clearance in itself. Unfortunately, there are often uncertain about self-reporting and when and how it applies to a clearance holder.

The Duty to Self Report

The duty to self-report was best defined by an administrative judge from the Defense Office of Hearings and Appeals (DOHA) in a 2001 case: “[I]t is the responsibility of security clearance holders to report events which negatively affect the status of the security clearance holder or the facility. [A]ny information… [which] reflects adversely on the integrity or character of a security clearance holder should be reported to security personnel to avoid compromising situations that make the security clearance holder vulnerable to coercion, exploitation, or duress.”

Examples of What Might be Reported

A reportable security concern is an incident that falls under one of the Adjudicative Guidelines contained in Security Executive Agent Directive 4 (SEAD 4). In most cases legal counsel should be consulted to determine how to self-report an issue. The following are just a few of the more common examples of security issues that could trigger a duty to self-report:

  • An individual uses illegal drugs (including the use of marijuana even in states or countries where legal locally). This can be a very complicated security concern given the intersection of criminal law and clearance law where legal advice will definitely be needed.
  • An individual is arrested. The timing and substance of reporting this incident will be important so legal advice will be needed.
  • An individual petitions for bankruptcy. Because filing for bankruptcy bears on financial considerations under SEAD 4, the individual should likely report the filing as soon as possible to his or her security officer.
  • An individual marries a foreign citizen. Because marrying a foreign citizen can raise foreign influence issues under SEAD 4, it most likely will trigger a duty to self-report.

When Should a Security Concern be Reported?

When an individual who holds a security clearance determines that a security concern requires self-reporting, it is important to do so as soon as timely as possible. The typical procedure for doing so is to notify one’s security officer of the security concern. The security officer may simply take note of the situation, report it or take other action.

The individual almost always feels embarrassed to self-report a security concern. However, not reporting an incident can lead to the loss of an individual’s security clearance. If an individual has questions about what should be reported, he or she should seek legal advice from an attorney experienced in security clearance law as soon as possible. There are risks to self-reporting, so it is important to seek legal counsel prior to doing so where possible.

Contact Us

If you are in need of legal representation or advice on the reporting of security clearance issues or any other security clearance matters, please contact our office at 703-668-0070 or through our contact page to schedule a consultation. Please also visit and like us on Facebook or Twitter.

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This is a sponsored column by attorneys John Berry and Kimberly Berry of Berry & Berry, PLLC, an employment and labor law firm located in Northern Virginia that specializes in federal employee, security clearance, retirement and private sector employee matters.

By Melissa L. Watkins, Esq.

Failing to accommodate an employee based on their religious beliefs can be costly for an employer.

Recently, a hotel dishwasher in Miami was awarded $21.5 million in damages after her employer refused to grant a religious accommodation, requiring that she work on Sundays and eventually terminating her. While the employee will not likely be able to recover this amount due to a cap on punitive damages, the award demonstrates the courts and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC’s) heightened attention to employers’ obligation to adequately respond to employees’ requests for religious accommodations.

Religious Discrimination and Title VII

Title VII of the U.S. Code protects workers from employment discrimination based on their religion. The law forbids discrimination in any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, training, benefits and other terms and conditions of employment. Title VII requires reasonable accommodation of an employee’s sincerely held religious beliefs, observances, and practices when requested.

The need for religious accommodation most often arises where an individual’s religious beliefs, observances, or practices conflict with a specific task or requirement of the job or application process. Accommodation requests often relate to work schedules, dress, grooming, or religious expression or practice while at work.

The prohibition on religious discrimination and the requirement for reasonable accommodation apply whether an employee’s religious views are mainstream or non-traditional, and even if the views are not recognized by an organized religion. An employer cannot require that an employee provide documentation from an established religious congregation.

Under Title VII, employers are required to accommodate the religious practices of their employees unless a requested accommodation can be shown to be an undue hardship. An accommodation may cause undue hardship if it is costly, compromises workplace safety, decreases workplace efficiency, infringes on the rights of other employees, or requires other employees to do more than their share of potentially hazardous or burdensome work. However, customer preferences or even the anticipated loss of business are not considered undue hardships.

How Religious Discrimination Claims are Established

In order to establish a claim of discrimination for an employer’s failure to grant a religious accommodation, employees generally need to show that the following:

(1) he or she has a bona fide religious belief, the practice of which conflicted with their employment

(2) he or she informed the agency/employer of this belief and conflict

(3) the agency/employer nevertheless enforced its requirement against the employee

Contact Us

If you are in need of employment law representation or advice, please contact our office at 703-668-0070 or through our contact page to schedule a consultation. Please also visit and like us on Facebook or Twitter.

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This is a sponsored column by attorneys John Berry and Kimberly Berry of Berry & Berry, PLLC, an employment and labor law firm located in Northern Virginia that specializes in federal employee, security clearance, retirement and private sector employee matters.

By John V. Berry, Esq.

The Commonwealth of Virginia is a few days away from enacting legislation that bans discrimination in employment, public accommodations and housing based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

On February 6, 2020, the Virginia Values Act passed HB 1663 in the Virginia House by a vote of 59 to 35 and SB 868 in the Virginia Senate by a vote of 30 to 9. The new legislation adds sexual orientation and gender identity to the state’s civil rights protections in the Virginia Human Rights Act.

The Virginia House published a summary of the new legislation, establishing several new civil claims as unlawful discrimination. The original summary of HB 1633 provides a good summation of this landmark legislation:

[The new law] creates explicit causes of action for unlawful discrimination in public accommodations and employment in the Virginia Human Rights Act. Currently, under the Act there is no cause of action for discrimination in public accommodations, and the only causes of action for discrimination in employment are for (i) unlawful discharge on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, including lactation, by employers employing more than five but fewer than 15 persons and (ii) unlawful discharge on the basis of age by employers employing more than five but fewer than 20 persons.

The bill allows the causes of action to be pursued privately by the aggrieved person or, in certain circumstances, by the Attorney General. The bill prohibits discrimination in public and private employment on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The bill also codifies for state and local government employment the current prohibitions on discrimination in employment on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, age, marital status, disability, or status as a veteran.

Additionally, the bill (a) prohibits discrimination in public accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, or status as a veteran; (b) prohibits discrimination in credit on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, disability, and status as a veteran; and (c) adds discrimination on the basis of an individual’s sexual orientation, gender identity, pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, marital status, or status as a veteran as an unlawful housing practice…

The legislation has to win passage one more time as a procedural matter. However, the Governor, who sought the legislation, expects to sign the bill into law shortly. For the first time, the new law applies all of Virginia’s anti-discrimination laws to public accommodations, such as retail stores and restaurants. It is a month of major change for civil rights in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

If you are in need of employment law representation or advice, please contact our office at 703-668-0070 or through our contact page to schedule a consultation. Please also visit and like us on Facebook or Twitter.

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