What are Virginia's Laws on the Termination of Employment?
Virginia is an "at will" state for workers. Generally, an employer has the right to fire someone at any time, for any reason. Even if the employee gives two weeks notice, the employer may then tell him to leave. Union or individual employee contracts may limit the employer's powers. Virginia law also gives some exceptions to the at-will rule. For example, one statute prohibits firing a worker for absenteeism when he's absent because of a work-related injury.
The Final Paycheck
The Virginia statutes say the end of the employee's job shouldn't affect the timing of her final paycheck. A terminated employee is still entitled to her wages for the work she completed before leaving. The deadline to pay her is the day she'd have gotten the regular check, though the employer can pay sooner. An employer who fails to obey the law can face fines of up to $1,000.
The law makes some exceptions to the employer's power to fire at will. Federal law bans firing an employee for discrimination. The Virginia Department of Labor says that includes any termination based on the worker's race, sex, religion, national origin or a physical or mental handicap. Age-based firing is illegal if the worker is 40 or more years old. Firing an employee for becoming pregnant or because her boss thought she'd get pregnant is also against the law.
Wrongful discharge is another exception to the employer's rights. The Central Virginia Legal Aid Society says an employer can't fire someone for exercising his legal rights, such as taking legally allowed time off or filing a health, safety or discrimination complaint. The law also protects an employee if the employer fires him for refusing to perform an illegal act. If an employer wrongfully terminates an employee, the company is vulnerable to a lawsuit.
The Virginia Employment Law Journal recommends that if a company has a standard termination procedure, it should always follow its own rules. If company policy says employees get a warning and a chance to improve, firing someone without warning could be cited as evidence the action was discriminatory or retaliatory. An employer who doesn't document the termination reasons, or gives a false explanation, leaves himself legally vulnerable even if the firing was legitimate.