Wrongful Termination in Virginia
Wrongful termination claims in Virginia can often be complex. Like many other states, Virginia is an “at-will employment” state. This means that any employment arrangement may be terminated at any time by either the employer or the employee. The termination may occur for any basic reason, just as long as the motivations for firing the worker are not illegal.
An example of an illegal motive is if the employer discriminates against a worker in the process of firing them. Discrimination may be based on race, age, sex, or other “protected categories”. It is also illegal to fire an employee if the termination violates a federal or state statute.
For instance, an employee cannot be fired if they took leave in accordance with the federal Family and Medical Leave Act. Termination is also considered wrongful if it is used as a form of sexual harassment. Wrongful termination claims in Virginia are most effective if they are based on these statutory types of violations.
Wrongful termination may also be based on a breach of an employment contract. But unlike other states, Virginia laws presume that the employment is at-will, even if the parties have an employment contract in writing. In order to overcome this presumption, the worker must prove that their employment contract directly limited their employer’s rights to terminate them without cause. In other words, any employment contract must specifically mention termination procedures in order for it to be used as evidence in a lawsuit.
The state of Virginia also prohibits termination if it violates public policy. Examples of this are where the employee was fired simply for obeying the law, or if they were fired for refusing to commit a crime.
The penalties for employers who commit wrongful termination may include monetary fines, especially if the termination has affected other areas such as the worker’s ability to pay child support. The employer may also be required to return the worker to the previous job title, including back pay and any benefits they may have had.
In Virginia, it is common for employers to try and negotiate a severance package in exchange for the terminated employee’s agreement not to file a wrongful termination lawsuit. You may wish to contact an employment lawyer if you are presented with an offer for a severance package that limits your legal options. A qualified Virginia lawyer can provided you more information if there is a legal basis for a claim.
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Last Modified: 09-06-2012 08:52 AM PDT
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