Employment is presumably “at will” in all states except Montana. This means that in Virginia, employers may legally fire the employment relationship at any time, for any reason, without cause. The employer is not required to provide any notice in advance, and your employees are not required to let you know ahead of time if they plan to quit.

One overarching exception is that federal laws prohibit all employers from discriminating on the basis of an employee’s age, race, sex (including gender identity, pregnancy, and sexual orientation), religion, genetic information, national origin, or disability.

There are several nuances to this general rule, and different states recognize different exceptions. The Supreme Court of Virginia holds that there are certain narrow public policy exceptions to the employment “at will” doctrine in Virginia.  

The Public Policy Exceptions

These contain three overlapping categories:

1. Refusing to perform illegal acts:

It is not only illegal to compel an employee to perform a criminal act, it is also illegal to fire them for refusing to comply with the request. As the employer, you cannot force any employee to commit perjury or violate any other federal, state, or local laws.

2. Employer’s violation of public policy explicitly expressed in the statute:

The exception is when an employer has violated a public policy that is expressly stated in the state statute. The employee must also fall under the class of person directly entitled to the protection enunciated by the public policy. A good example of this is Virginia Code Section 2.2-3900, which states “[i]t is the policy of the Commonwealth to safeguard all individuals within the Commonwealth from unlawful discrimination because of race, color, religion…”

3. Exercising a statutory right: 

All employees have the right to file a safety complaint, and it is illegal to fire an employee for exercising this right. Essentially, employees having such statutory rights is a prerequisite in triggering this public policy exception.  

Legally Firing an Employee

A termination in Virginia will stay on the right side of the law so long as it complies with the following principles:

  • The firing is not due to the employee’s age (if over 40), race, sex, religion, national origin or disability.
  • The employee isn’t fired for refusing to perform an illegal act.
  • The termination isn’t retaliation for exercising a statutory right or reporting illegal activity.

In conclusion, if you have any doubts regarding the legality of firing an employee, speak with an attorney. This is especially important if you are uncertain about the scope of your employee’s rights, or are dealing with the complex issue of discrimination. Speak with one of our many qualified attorneys at Dunlap Bennett & Ludwig to assist with your employment matters today.  

 

 

Posted in: Employment Law