Federal law protects people working at large employers from discrimination. But what about protections for employees of small companies or businesses?
Too often, people working at small employers think they have no protections. In Virginia, we have a rarely used law protecting people, including those who work at small companies, from getting fired because of who they are. We’d like to ensure that all Virginians are free from discrimination.
The Virginia Human Rights Act bans discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, pregnancy, childbirth or related condition. If you work for an employer with 6-14 employees and are fired because of any of those factors, you can sue your former employer for up to one year’s salary. If your employer has 6-19 employees and fires you because you are over 40 years old, you can also sue for up to one year’s salary. If your employer has over 15 employees (or 20 for age), you’re protected by federal law and can sue under those laws.
Sadly, the Virginia Human Rights Act could use more teeth. It only protects people fired on the basis of their identity, but not people facing other types of on-the-job discrimination like poor assignments or responsibilities, failure to promote, or inadequate training. It also limits an employee’s potential damages and the amount of attorney’s fees available, so many private attorneys can’t afford to bring these cases. As a result, many Virginians don’t know the law exists, or can’t find an attorney to bring their case.
The ACLU of Virginia is launching a new project to use this law to increase protections throughout the Commonwealth, particularly for people who have been discriminated against based on their sex and gender. By bringing cases under the Virginia Human Rights Act, we intend to raise awareness of this law and make it easier for others to bring these cases in the future. We want to hear from people who were fired after Feb. 13, 2018, because of their sex or gender, including because of pregnancy, lactation, or menstruation, who may have a legal claim to bring against their former employers.
There are more than 120,000 employers with fewer than 20 employees in Virginia. They employ almost 17 percent of the Commonwealth’s workforce. We can’t let these employers get away with discrimination, just because they only employ a handful of people. Everyone deserves job security and protection from discrimination.
Let’s put small employers on notice – if you’ve been fired from a small employer in the past nine months due to your gender or sex, please fill out our intake form here.