The Appalachian state of West Virginia occupies a unique position in the U.S., culturally and politically. West Virginia split off from Virginia during the Civil War, in order to side with the Union. Today, WV is home to about 1.8 million people and brings in a GDP of around $55 billion. The state’s most prominent industries all relate to energy and include gas, oil, and (of course) coal extraction.
Other than these energy industries, however, West Virginia doesn’t generate significant income from more “traditional” industries like farming, banking, or communications. The economy often struggles due to the state’s geographical isolation and lack of major urban centers. Many West Virginians believe they have few options when it comes to employment, increasing the likelihood they will not report violations in an effort to stay employed.
The West Virginia Human Rights Commission (WVHRC) focuses on reducing and eliminating discrimination. According to a state law passed in 1961, it is illegal in West Virginia to discriminate based on national origin, religion, mental or physical disability, age, sex, color, race, family status, and blindness. The West Virginia Human Rights Commission operates out of the state capital, Charleston, and provides the following services:
- Offering training modules for employers and employees;
- Collecting and processing discrimination complaints;
- Adjusting workplace policies;
- Mitigating workplace problems when possible;
- Enforcing compliance measures when necessary.
The state’s prosperous coal mining industry, historically, has sparked intense and vigorously fought battles over the rights of laborers. These legal debates have influenced not just West Virginia's industrial operations but also mining operations elsewhere in the U.S. and the world.
Coal mining in West Virginia has a reputation as dangerous work. Laborers must often toil for many hours in a row in dark, sequestered, pollution-filled caverns for relatively low wages. Most coal mining operations today adhere strictly with state and federal laws, but not all employers play by the rules. Work and hour violations can have fatal consequences -- particularly when workers don’t get regular breaks, experience conditions that make them sick, or work overtime without adequate pay.
- Federally mandated breaks. Employers who fail to provide adequate breaks to employees place workers at risk of illness, exhaustion, and dehydration.
- Unsafe working conditions. Combined with minimal breaks, unsafe working conditions can contribute to work-related injuries, accidents, or death.
- Mandatory shifts without overtime pay. Forcing employees to work additional hours without the appropriate increase in pay can constitute a violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and Virginia labor laws. (Early legal battles over the rights of West Virginia miners often focused on wage and hour questions.)
- Failure to follow FMLA guidelines. Employers must offer qualifying employees FMLA benifits and adhere to legal guidelines.
Whether you work in the mining industry, the service indusrty or any other profession in West Virginia, you’re entitled to safe, humane working conditions as well as appropriate breaks and fair pay. Employers who refuse to abide by established federal and West Virginia labor laws can be reported, and employees need not fear retaliation.
For insight into your rights and responsibilities under West Virginia labor law, seek assistance from a qualified government agency, or contact a local employment attorney today.