Wrongful Termination

Were you asked to do something illegal at work? Were you terminated in a way that does not comport with your employer’s handbook and self-imposed rules and regulations? Wrongful termination actions can be pursued in Virginia under the correct circumstances.

Wrongful termination is illegal in Virginia and the District of Columbia, but the laws only allow cases to be brought in limited circumstances. In all states, a private-sector employee is generally considered to be employed on an “at will” basis and can be discharged by an employer for any reason or for no reason at all, unless the employee’s contract explicitly provides otherwise. As such, an employee can be fired due to personal differences or favoritism. However, most states have carved out public policy exceptions to the general rule of “at will” employment. Our lawyers help employees find those exceptions in cases of wrongful termination.

Virginia

Virginia has three exceptions to the general concept of “at will” employment. The first exception is triggered when an employee is fired for exercising a right that has been created by statute, such as using his or her workers’ compensation benefits. The second exception is found in situations where the employee is terminated for refusing to commit a crime. The third exception covers situations in which the employer violated public policy expressed in a state law. To meet the third standard, an employee must demonstrate that he or she is a member of the class of persons entitled to protection under the applicable statute; that is, the law was designed to protect people like the individual asserting his or her rights under the law.

The Virginia legislature has modified the Virginia Human Rights Act (VHRA), which prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of “race, color, religion, national origin, sex, pregnancy, childbirth, marital status, or disability,” to prohibit claims for wrongful termination based upon the VHRA. As such, employees must find different statutory remedies to prevail in a claim for wrongful termination. An example of this kind of protected behavior would be an employee reporting workplace health and safety violations.

A plaintiff has two years to file a claim for wrongful termination in Virginia. As long as there is no other state remedy, filing a federal claim does not preclude an employee from simultaneously pursuing a claim of wrongful termination in Virginia state court.

District of Columbia

District of Columbia courts recognize a narrow, three-faceted public policy exception to the traditional at-will doctrine. This exception covers an employee who was fired for any of the following: 1) refusing to engage in illegal conduct, 2) exercising a statutory right, or 3) reporting an employer’s illegal conduct. To establish a claim of wrongful discharge, an employee must show that the employer’s action violated a policy officially established in a statute or regulation. Courts in D.C. use a case-by-case analysis of the employee’s claim of a public policy exception.

In D.C., the civil action for wrongful discharge is available only when no other remedy for the same underlying allegation is available. Therefore, the claim is available only as a last resort where no other claim is provided under federal or D.C. law. Plaintiffs have three years to file a claim for wrongful termination in the District of Columbia.

Our lawyers can help you determine if you have been wrongfully terminated in violation of state law. Please contact us for a consultation.