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Virginia attorney general dedicates team to investigating worker exploitation

Virginia attorney general dedicates team to investigating worker exploitation
© Greg Nash

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring (D) announced on Wednesday that his office would be designating a group of attorneys and prosecutors to investigate and stop individuals and businesses that “unlawfully engage in worker exploitation.”

According to a press release from Herring’s office, the Worker Protection Unit will also seek to educate Virginia workers on their rights.

“Misclassification, payroll fraud, and wage theft are somewhat complicated terms, but at their simplest they are all instances of business owners and managers stealing from their hardworking employees,” Herring said. 

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According to the release, misclassification is one of the most common forms of worker exploitation and often involves identifying an employee as an "independent contractor" in order to avoid paying unemployment and workers taxes.

“For way too long, Virginia’s weak worker protection laws have made it way too easy for business managers, owners, and labor brokers to cheat their workers and cheat the Commonwealth,” Herring said.

“Managers and owners hope that workers won’t notice that they’re being stolen from, or will simply be too afraid to complain because they don’t want to lose their job or worse," the state attorney general added. "It’s a really insidious form of exploitation that hides in plain sight. Thankfully, that is finally starting to change with the enactment of new laws to protect workers from wage theft and misclassification, and to make these crimes easier to detect and easier to charge."

President of the American Federation of Teachers labor union Randi Weingarten praised the announcement on Twitter, writing, "This is a step in a great direction for Virginia workers."

The new group was announced the same day that Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) snubbed Herring, who is seeking a third term, by endorsing one of his primary challengers in the state's off-year election this November.