West Virginia is an at-will employment state. This is generally taken to mean that most employers aren’t under any contractual obligation to their workers. Most companies think that this gives them the ability to let their employees go anytime without providing any valid reason for doing so. Employers are limited in their ability to terminate an employee in certain instances by state and federal laws though.
There are several exceptions to the at-will employment doctrine in place here in West Virginia.
An employer is prohibited from firing an employee based on their belonging to a protected class.
West Virginia law forbids employers from letting a worker go from their job simply because they use tobacco or they’re in the military. State laws also prohibit employers from firing workers who they find out have been diagnosed with acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) or human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
If an employer discriminates against a pregnant worker or one of a different religion, race, citizenship status, gender, ethnicity, race or based on their genetic information, then they may have violated federal laws.
Any employer who signs an employment contract with an employee must adhere to the terms of that agreement. That document generally spells out the grounds on which a worker can be let go from their job. If you sign such a contract with an employee and then fire them for an invalid reason, then you may have violated state law.
It’s also unlawful for a West Virginia employer to fire a worker because they’re unwilling to violate the public’s trust.
Workers can’t be fired for reporting discriminatory acts or sexual harassment. Any employee that is let go from their job, demoted or looked over for promotions after reporting such activity may have been retaliated against. This is illegal under both West Virginia and federal laws.
West Virginia workers are additionally prohibited from being fired simply because they’re injured on the job and request protection under their employer’s workers’ compensation policy.
While many Charleston employers may think that they can let any worker go as they will, this is far from the case. There’s a fine line between what’s legal and not. If you cross that, then you better have an attorney on speed dial. You may face significant fines and civil penalties if you violate West Virginia or federal laws in this way.