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Beware of Restrictions on Right to Fire at Will

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in Employment Law,Human Resources

Q. I would like to fire an employee who is unpleasant to work with. We simply don't “click.” Do I have to have cause to terminate him? —A.C., Virginia

A. Even though you don't have specific cause, that doesn't necessarily mean that you can't fire him. Virginia, like most states, follows the “employee-at-will” doctrine. This means that the employer may terminate an employee at any time, without notice, for any lawful reason.

That right may be restricted, however, by an employment contract or by other verbal or written assurances that the employee's job is “secure” and/or that the employee can't be terminated without cause. An employee handbook, for example, may describe a disciplinary process that implies an employee must first receive a warning before being terminated. Of course, no employee may be terminated for discriminatory reasons in violation of federal, state or local civil rights laws.

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