There are limits to At-Will Termination

What are the exceptions to At-Will Termination

Getting fired from a job is one of the most humiliating, embarrassing, and gut-wrenching events that an individual can experience in life. It’s bad enough to lose your income and healthcare insurance, but the loss of purpose and your good name is what often stings the most. The loss of a job may also cause severe emotional distress and some instances post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”).

Many believe that your employer can fire you for any reason in West Virginia. This is not true. While West Virginia is considered an At-Will state, there are numerous exceptions that prohibit an employer from terminating you. For instance, it is illegal for an employer to fire you because of your:

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Race
  • Gender
  • Religion
  • Pregnancy
  • Military status

It is also illegal for an employer to fire you because you:

  • Reported sexual harassment
  • Reported an unsafe working environment that is protected by West Virginia public policy
  • Reported race discrimination
  • Reported gender discrimination
  • Filed a workers’ compensation claim
  • Reported patient safety violations

These are just a few of the many expectations to At-Will employment.

There are six other major categories of exceptions to at-will employment. These are public policy, the West Virginia Human Rights Act, Workers’ Compensation Act, Patient Safety Act, individual employment contracts, and collective bargaining agreement.

Public Policy

Simply put, at-will employment is limited by situations where it would be illegal to fire someone. There are various laws at the federal and state level that protect employees from being fired under certain circumstances. Motivation to fire someone cannot be driven by retaliatory reasons protected by West Virginia’s substantial public policy.


It is unlawful to fire an employee because of their age, race, sex, religion, gender, national origin, or disability. Likewise, it is illegal to fire an individual for reporting violations protected by the West Virginia Human Rights Act.


It is unlawful to fire an employee for filing or attempting to file a workers’ compensation claim relating to a workplace injury.


For individuals working in the healthcare industry, it is illegal to fire an employee for reporting a violation of patient safety.

Individual Employment Contracts

If you have a contract with your employer, it may be a breach of the contract to fire you without cause. Claims relating to contracts will depend on the terms of the contract.

Collective Bargaining Agreements

If your employment is covered by a union, whether you are a member of it or not, the union’s collective bargaining agreement with a company can limit at-will termination. The union may have an agreement in place that outlines under which circumstances an employee can be fired, such as permitting only for-cause terminations if an employee broke a law or company policy.

Do You Need Legal Help?

Contrary to what you may have believed or been told before, at-will termination has exceptions. As we just indicated, there are several circumstances in which your employer may have exposed itself to significant liability for firing you.

At Rod Smith Law PLLC, we fight for employees who were taken advantage of by their employers in a number of ways, including wrongful termination. If you believe you were fired for an unlawful reason let us help you fight to get what you deserve, such as lost wages, benefits, and reinstatement in certain circumstances.

Learn more about our services during a free consultation with our attorneys. Schedule your appointment today when you call (304) 406-7076 or fill out our online contact form.

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