Employment Law Attorneys
Buckhannon, Parkersburg and throughout West Virginia


What Does Employment-at-Will Mean and Why Does it Matter?

West Virginia employment lawyerWhen you are hired for a job in West Virginia, typically you will be hired as an at-will employee. An at-will employee is a person who can quit his or her job at any time, for any reason or for no reason at all. An at-will employee can also be fired from a job at any time for any reason or no reason. However, there are certain things that an employer is not allowed to consider when determining the employment prospects of an at-will employee.

When you are an at will employee, your employer does not have to give you an explanation before terminating your employment. Your employer does not have to provide a specific reason for letting you go, nor does your employer have to go through any type of formal disciplinary process if he wants to fire you. You are also free to leave you company at any time, although it is usually considered best practices to give two weeks notice so your employer has time to find someone to replace you.

If you are fired or let go as an at will employee, you usually have limited or no legal recourse. You cannot force your employer to keep employing you and you cannot sue your employer for wrongful termination. However, there are exceptions to this general rule. If an employer fires you in violation of anti-discrimination or worker protection laws, you can pursue a case for damages.

An employer cannot fire an at-will employee for their religious beliefs; for their race; for their gender; because of their disability; or because of their age. If an employee reports workplace safety violations, tries to form a union at work, or reports wrongdoing on the part of the company, the employee is typically also protected by whistleblower protection laws or by the National Labor Relations Act which protects unionization efforts at work.

Outside of the exceptions that exist, however, your employer is free to do what he wants. Many of the protections for workers exist on both the federal and state level. Federal worker protection and anti-discrimination rules apply throughout the United States. For example, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of race, religion, gender, national origin, and color. Some states and local jurisdictions have also created new protected classes, such as by extending protections against discrimination to people based on sexual orientation or political beliefs. These state-specific rules only apply to employers operating within that particular jurisdiction.

In addition to anti-discrimination rules, employees may also be protected by an employment contract. If you sign an employment agreement with your employer that provides you with workplace protections such as setting forth a disciplinary process before termination, you are no longer just an at will employee and your employer has to follow the protocols in the employment contract. If your employer fails to follow contract terms, you could pursue legal action with the help of an experienced employment law attorney.

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