I live in an “At Will” State. What does that mean?

Employees in “At Will” positions can be fired or can leave their job at any time, and for almost any reason. While at will employment is the standard throughout the U.S., some states have imposed more limitations on an employer’s ability to fire employees. Some states, like Virginia, have notoriously limited exceptions to the at will rules. The Virginia Supreme Court did recognize one possible category of exceptions in an important case in 1985 called Bowman v. State Bank.

In Bowman, the Court held that an employer could be legally liable for firing employees for reasons that violated public policy. This limited exception gives employees the right to sue if employers fire them for refusing to be part of criminal activities or for exercising rights protected by law. After Bowman, the courts have been reluctant to expand the situations where employees can sue for wrongful discharge although some recent cases have added additional protections for workers.

Because state laws on wrongful discharge can evolve, it is often helpful to speak with an experienced attorney if you believe your employer wrongfully discharged you.