A new restaurant is opening at the local shopping center. Contractors are in the process of completing the build-out to the owners’ specifications and the proposed opening day for the restaurant is quickly approaching. The upcoming process of hiring employees to work at the business is of critical importance in that it can often determine whether the restaurant will succeed or fail.

Virginia is an employment-at-will state. This means that an employer may terminate any employee at any time, for any reason, or for no reason. Typically, the employee does not have the right to challenge the termination with a few limited exceptions. Despite his or her “at-will” employment status, an employee cannot be terminated on the basis of age, race, sex, religion, national origin or handicap. In addition, an employer cannot terminate an employee for filing a safety complaint or exercising rights under OSHA law.

For those employees that ownership deems are necessary to the continued success of the company, a contract of employment for a specific period of time may be entered into between the parties. These contracts specifically delineate the terms of the employment as well as what happens in the event of termination.

Regardless of whether an employee is “at-will” or not, all employees should sign a contract clearly delineating his or her employment status, form of compensation and job responsibilities. These contracts often also contain clauses pertaining to confidentiality, non-competition, alternative dispute resolution and remedies in the event of default.

Employees can be valuable assets to a company. However, in the event an employee proves to be a liability and detrimental to the business, employers must have the ability to terminate their employment. The “at-will” designation provides them with this ability to do so effectively