January 26, 2016- Richmond, VA
It is no secret that snowy weather makes for hazardous driving conditions. While the vast majority of schools in the Richmond area were closed Monday, many workplaces resumed normal business operations.
According to CBS 6 News, several of their viewers contacted the station to ask whether an employee can be fired for refusing to report to work when road conditions are dangerous. In their report, CBS 6 News identified Virginia as an “at will” work state – but what exactly does “at-will” mean?
As an employment-at-will state, Virginia law permits employers to terminate any employee at any time, for any reason, or for no reason at all. In the absence of a written contract or other evidence indicating that an employee may be terminated only “for cause,” employment is generally presumed to be at-will.
In Virginia, there are three general exceptions to the employee-at-will doctrine
- Discharge of an employee for exercising a statutorily created right.
Federal discrimination laws prohibit the termination of employment based on various protected categories; including: race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability, and genetic information
2. Discharge for a reason contrary to a public policy explicitly expressed by statute.
For example, an employee in Virginia may not be discriminated against or terminated for filing a safety complaint or exercising rights under OSHA law.
3. Discharge resulting from an employee’s refusal to engage in an illegal act.
A wrongful discharge case can be filed by an employee who asserts that she has been terminated in violation of public policy, such as refusing to engage in an illegal act required by her employer
CBS 6 News also noted that the National Labor Relations Act could allow employees to take action against employers who fire them for not showing up during inclement weather; but only if a group of employees argued that the firing was unfair (rather than just one employee).
While Virginia is a right-to-work state with relatively little union activity, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is not limited to dealing with unionized employers or employers whose employees are seeking union representation. Rather, the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) defines employers subject to the Act very broadly.