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Virginia Supreme Court Case Challenges At-Will Employment
On Jan. 11, SHRM and the SHRM Virginia State Council (VASHRM) filed an amicus briefin the Virginia Supreme Court case Johnston v. William E. Wood & Associates Inc. In this case, Brenda Johnston, whose employment was terminated by William E. Wood & Associates in 2013, argues that her termination was unlawful because she was not provided “reasonable notice” in advance of her termination.
Virginia, along with every state in the country but Montana, operates under the doctrine of “at-will” employment, meaning that any employer can terminate an employee at any time and for any reason, except an illegal one, without incurring legal liability. Similarly, employees are free to quit at any time. Some states have developed limited exceptions to the at-will doctrine either by statute or interpretation of common law.
In the amicus brief, SHRM and VASHRM (joined by the Virginia Chamber of Commerce, the Virginia Assisted Living Association, the Virginia Retail Merchants Association, and the Virginia Restaurant Lodging and Travel Association) argue that Virginia law and practice in this area does not support the requirement of advance notice for either employers or employees who seek to end an employment relationship. If advance notice is required to fire an at-will employee, every case involving a termination will result in a jury question of whether the notice provided was reasonable. In addition, the brief argues that any change to the at-will doctrine should be made by the legislature after full consideration of the social, economic and policy implications.
The Johnston case is one to watch, not only for its impact on at-will employment in Virginia but also for the repercussions it could have in other at-will employment across the country. SHRM will keep you apprised of developments in this case.
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