Employment Agreements and Business Policies
Virginia is an “at will” state, meaning that, as a general rule, an employee can be terminated at will. However, a contract between the employer and the employee can override this and become the basis for the employment relationship. In addition, although an employee is “at will” and can can be terminated for no reason at all, it is still illegal to terminate him or her for an illegal reason, such as discrimination based on race, national origin, color, sex, religion, disability, genetic information (including family medical history), or age (40 or older).
Any employment contract must be carefully drafted and, once drafted, must be carefully followed. Careless drafting or failing to follow the terms of the agreement can lead to wrongful termination claims.
Many people do not realize that, even where the employee has not been hired pursuant to a formal employment contract, an “Office Manual,” “Employee Handbook,” or similar document may be considered by a court to be a contract between the employer and employee, with the result that employees may not be “at will” employees, even if their employment agreement says that they are.
It is also important that any Office Manual or Employee Handbook not contain policies which violate the employment laws. Policies which may seem very reasonable may, nonetheless, violate a law such as the Fair Labor Standards Act or the Family and Medical Leave Act. Failure to follow these and other laws can expose a business to serious penalties and legal fees.
While Office Manuals and Employee Handbooks can be very useful documents, they must be carefully drafted. At Rice & Stallknecht, P.C., we may be able assist you with this.