As you know, most private sector employees in Virginia are “at-will” employees, which means that either the employee or the employer can terminate the employment relationship at any time with or without cause. In a recent decision, Johnston v. William E. Wood & Associates, Inc., No. 151160 (S. Ct. Va. June 2, 2016), the Supreme Court of Virginia rejected the argument by an at-will employee that her termination without advance notice constituted a wrongful discharge and breached an implied term of her employment.
Brenda Johnston (“Johnston”) was a 17-year at-will employee of a real estate services firm. When her employment was terminated without any advance notice, she sued her former employer claiming she was wrongfully discharged and that her former employer breached an implied term of her employment – that is, that she would be afforded reasonable advance notice before her employment was terminated.
In rejecting Johnston’s claims, the Supreme Court stated that imposing a requirement of reasonable advance notice would be contrary to the flexibility that lies at the heart of the at-will doctrine and would undermine the indefinite duration of at-will employment. The Court stated that the only required notice of termination of an at-will employment is effective notice that the employment relationship is ending. In other words, notice of termination of at-will employment can be given immediately and need not be days or even hours in advance as long as the employee is informed that his/her employment is being terminated.
The decision is important because it confirms that at-will employment can be terminated at any time with or without cause as long as the employer advises the employee the employment is being terminated.