Wrongful termination claims in Virginia can often be complex. Like many other states, Virginia is an "at-will" employment state. This means that, absent an employment contract, either the employer or the employee may terminate the employment arrangement at any time. Also, the termination may occur for any reason, or no reason at all, as long as the motivations for firing the worker are not illegal.
Under federal law, it is illegal for a Virginia employer to fire an employee for discriminatory reasons. Federal law prohibits employers from firing employees based on race, color, national origin, sex, pregnancy, religion, age, disability, or citizenship. Only employers with a minimum number of employees must comply with these laws.
Virginia law prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, pregnancy, religion, disability, age, genetic information, or marital status.
What are Illegal Motives for Firing an Employee?
An example of an illegal motive is if the employer discriminates against a worker in the process of firing them. Discrimination may be based certain characteristics of an individual such as race, age, sex, religion, or nationality. 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 she 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.
What Is a Breach of an Employment Contract?
Wrongful termination may also be based on a breach of an employment contract. However, 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. Thus, any employment contract must specifically mention termination procedures in order for it to be used as evidence in a lawsuit.
What Is a Public Policy Violation?
Virginia also prohibits termination if it violates public policy. Examples include an employee being fired simply for obeying the law, or for refusing to commit a crime.To be the basis of a wrongful termination action, the policy in question must be substantial and it must be based on either a statute or constitutional provision.
Are There Remedies for Wrongful Termination?
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.
On the other hand, employers may try to 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.
Should I Consult an Attorney?
A qualified Virginia lawyer can help you determine whether there is a legal basis for a claim. He can also help you file your claims, represent you in court, and negotiate the appropriate remedies.