We often meet with individuals that believe that they have been wrongfully terminated from their employer in Virginia. When dealing with these types of employment issues, it is important to seek out the advice of a Virginia employment lawyer knowledgeable in these areas of law. This article discusses the rights and issues associated with wrongful termination for Virginia employees.
There is nothing quite the same as being called into one’s supervisor’s office, or to an employer’s HR office (almost always on a Friday) only to be informed that their employment has been terminated. In most cases, the employee is unaware of the pending termination and there is little advance notice. As a result, it is a fairly big shock to the person being terminated. Once notice is given, the person is often quickly escorted out of the office and is faced with confusion and a sense of loss. Many employees are left bewildered, wondering about their rights.
Wrongful Termination Law in Virginia
Employee terminations in Virginia are considered “at will”, which generally leaves it to the discretion of an employer whether to terminate an employee for pretty much any reason unless illegal. However, if the employer has violated a state or federal law in terminating the employee, the termination can be considered “wrongful” and there may be potential avenues to challenge the termination. These can include, but are not limited to:
- Whistleblowing Reprisal;
- Discrimination (age, race, sex, national origin, etc.);
- Sexual Harassment;
- Hostile Work Environment: and
- Violation of Employment Contract.
The case law with respect to whistleblowing is changing, and moving towards favoring an employee when the case merits. For many years, that was not the case in Virginia. In Bowman v. State Bank of Keysville, the Virginia Supreme Court first recognized an exception to the employment at-will doctrine based upon an employer’s violation of public policy in the termination of an employee. I expect this to continue to be an evolving doctrine where more exceptions are found.
Additionally, there has, at least for the last 50 years or so, claims that an employee has been terminated for issues related to sex harassment, hostile work environment and workplace discrimination.
Employee Should Determine their Legal Options
The first step that a Virginia employee should take if they believe that they have been wrongfully terminated is to make an appointment with a Virginia employment attorney to determine whether or not the action falls into the category of a “wrongful termination.” It is also important to consult with an attorney to see what steps may be taken to minimize the career damage that has just occurred and whether the action taken may be appealable.
It is usually the case that employees have more options following a termination than are apparent to them initially. The employer may have broken (or bent) federal or Virginia laws with respect to the termination action. If so, then it may be possible to negotiate a resolution on behalf of the employee, with the employer, resolving the matter. A resolution generally occurs more often when the employee retains an attorney to contact the employer about the inappropriate or illegal nature of an employee’s termination. An attorney may also be able to tell an employee if their termination does not meet the criteria for wrongful termination and offer other strategies.
When facing wrongful termination issues in Virginia it is important to obtain the advice of and representation of a Virginia employment lawyer. Our law firm advises and represents individuals in wrongful termination matters in Virginia and other jurisdictions. We can be contacted at www.berrylegal.com or by telephone at (703) 668-0070. Please also visit and like us on our Facebook and Twitter pages.
We represent individuals in Virginia and the greater Washington, D.C. area when they are terminated from their employment. We represent individuals in wrongful termination cases when an employer terminates a person for some illegal or inappropriate reason. Many issues come into play when an employee is terminated. These types of employment issues are compounded by anxiety, fears, financial concerns and other strong emotions. It is very important for an employee to attempt to handle being terminated the right way because of issues that may arise later.
Here are 5 tips for Virginia employees to consider should they face termination:
1. Handle Termination Professionally: This is the most important tip. As difficult as this can be, an employee should handle their termination without drama. This is usually one of the most difficult things for an employee to do. However, if an individual handles this poorly, it can cause major issues for them later on. Individuals who cannot hold their emotions in check often end up much worse than those that quietly gather their belongings, hold their head high and leave on their termination date. In the worst case, if an individual makes a scene when they are fired, the employer may exaggerate the issue and call the police. Furthermore, leaving in a pleasant manner makes it much easier to settle a wrongful termination case later should the individual consider taking that step. Doing so also reduces the possibility that an employer will challenge a former employee’s attempt to obtain unemployment compensation or cause a problem if the individual later applies for a security clearance or another position.
2. Don’t Take Employer Materials: Individuals should be very careful when leaving employment not to take proprietary employer materials, physical items, data or other employer documents without permission. We commonly see this issue arise when an individual is wrongly terminated, but the employer later claims as a defense that the employee “took” or “stole” materials or proprietary data from an employer. Most of these type of allegations relate to an attempt by the employee to take digital materials with them on their last day, but there are many different types of potential scenarios that can arise.
3. Try to Maintain a Reference for Future Employment: When an employee is fired, the usual next step is for them to find new employment. Even if a prior supervisor will not serve as a reference due to the termination, an individual should see if former supervisors (perhaps those no longer employed by the former employer) or others still employed at the employer will serve as a reference. Having a reference for the period of time worked at the former employment will vastly improve one’s chances of obtaining a new position. Even if an individual has been fired, having someone available who can speak to the former employee’s work/performance ability can go a far way to mitigate the damage of the termination.
4. Don’t Sign an Agreement While Being Terminated: In many cases, employers will try to limit their liability for wrongful termination by presenting potential agreements to employees they are firing on the day of termination. Such agreements might offer a short amount of pay (1-2 weeks) in exchange for extinguishing all of the employee’s rights. Before signing such an agreement it is important to have an attorney review it. Many former employees come to us after they have signed such agreements which makes it very difficult to take any action on their behalf later.
5. Consult with an Attorney about the Termination: Not every firing involves a wrongful termination. However, if an employee believes that they were terminated wrongfully or illegally and are concerned with their rights they should seek legal advice and do so in a timely manner. Many employment rights are time sensitive so they should be evaluated immediately, if at all.
In the majority of employment termination cases that we see, individuals are able to move forward with their career after termination with good planning and preparation. The odds of doing so quickly increase when a termination is handled properly by the former employee.
We represent Virginia employees in their legal defense against employment wrongful termination. If you need legal assistance, please contact our office at (703) 668-0070 or at www.berrylegal.com to schedule a consultation. Please also visit and like us on Facebook at Berry and Berry PLLC Facebook Page.