Labor & Employment Law
in West Virginia

Employers and employees in West Virginia should understand the implications of the state’s various labor laws. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) files hundreds of discrimination and harassment lawsuits each fiscal year. These lawsuits have the potential to cripple or even bankrupt businesses in West Virginia – and they represent only one possible form of employment-related litigation. There are many others to consider. This is why reviewing all relevant laws in more detail is essential. Although internet research certainly helps in this goal, a consultation with Zeni Law can provide more targeted guidance based on the specific needs of each employment relationship. 

What Are Needed in Employee Handbooks?

Employers in West Virginia can use employee handbooks to outline their policies, expectations, benefits, etc clearly. New hires receive these handbooks as part of the onboarding process, but experienced workers may also receive updated versions throughout their years with the company. 

Common Elements of Employee Handbooks

The contents of a good employee handbook depend to some extent on the company culture and the type of industry. Some elements, however, are relatively standard and are likely to appear in some form in employee handbooks across a wide range of businesses. Common examples of this type include the following:

  • Expectations
  • Legal obligations
  • Employee rights
  • Anti-discrimination policies
  • Anti-harassment policies
  • Anti-retaliation policies
  • An overview of at-will employment
  • Safety policies
  • Standard wage/salary information
  • Overtime information
  • Holiday information, including days off and vacation pay
  • Sick leave policies
  • An overview of employee benefits (if any)
  • Family leave information
  • Medical leave information
  • Promotion information
  • Raise information
  • Bonus information
  • How to file a complaint
  • Legal disclaimers

The Benefits of Employee Handbooks

The main benefit of a thoughtfully designed employee handbook is simple: By providing plenty of information, employers negate any opportunity for employers to claim ignorance in the event of a violation or legal issue. From a practical standpoint, having a single, shared document that outlines expectations and obligations for both sides can provide a common point of reference that benefits employees and employers alike. In addition, in the event of an audit or investigation, regulatory authorities may look to employee handbooks to determine whether guidance given to employees was sufficient, appropriate, and consistently implemented. This mandates not only the creation of such policies but also their distribution to employees in an easily understandable format, backed by consistent and well-documented follow-through, with rewards and disciplinary procedures carried out as described.

Employment Policies

In some circumstances, West Virginia employers can create their policies. In other cases, specific policies are required (or banned) under state and federal laws. A labor and employment attorney in West Virginia can advise you regarding the legal requirements for your industry.

Most employers in the United States must adhere to the Fair Labor Standards Act. This federal law mandates several policies:

  • The implementation of the federal minimum wage
  • Minimum overtime payment of 1.5 times the regular wage
  • Banning children from carrying out dangerous jobs
  • Limiting hours worked by children under 16 during school weeks
  • Adherence to the workers’ compensation program
  • Compliance with the Employment Retirement Security Act (ERISA) for companies offering pensions or benefits
  • Whistleblower protections
  • Up to 12 weeks of unpaid medical or family leave (for employers with more than 50 workers)
  • Adherence to the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) for specific sectors


Many policies are not required under any law but prove valuable and popular for West Virginia employers. Examples include:

  • Policies for performance evaluations
  • Training policies
  • Recruitment policies
  • Communication policies
  • Policies regarding remote work
  • Policies regarding scheduling flexibility
  • Policies regarding or prohibiting intra-office fraternization (i.e., dating coworkers)
  • General employee conduct 
  • Establishing expectations for employee behavior while on the job
  • Use of technology
  • Drugs and alcohol policies
  • Confidentiality or non-disclosure policies
  • Attendance policies
  • Dress code policies
  • Conflict of interest policies
  • Disciplinary policies
  • Digital security policies

Laws Regarding Employment Contracts

If policies are not required according to US law, how do employers enforce them? The answer is simple: With an employment contract. Employees must sign this agreement before starting work, ensuring compliance with a legally binding arrangement. The employer must also sign this employment contract, providing a written promise that they will uphold their end of the bargain. Once signed by both parties, the agreement falls under general contract law. 

Business people negotiating a contract

Restrictive Covenant Agreements Explained

Restrictive covenant agreements prevent employees from taking specific actions that might damage the employer’s interests. These agreements usually involve things the employee has been exposed to, such as confidential information or specialized training. Two common examples include non-disclosure agreements and non-compete agreements:

A non-disclosure agreement prevents the employee who signs it from revealing certain information specified in the contract to any third party. Types of information often protected in this way include trade secrets or other forms of intellectual property, information that may damage the company’s reputation, and so on. Note that whistleblower laws may allow employers to violate these agreements if they are doing so to reveal unlawful activity by the company. 

As the name implies, non-compete agreements are designed to prevent employees from competing with their former employer for a certain amount of time after leaving the company. If these agreements did not exist, employees could theoretically learn trade secrets and business practices before quitting and starting their own “copycat” business. 

Collective Bargaining Agreements in West Virginia

Collective Bargaining Agreements in West Virginia

A collective bargaining agreement exists between a private employer and a union, the employees’ elected representatives. This type of employment contract dictates the rules that govern the relationship between employer and employee. However, under West Virginia Code §18-5-45a, public employees have no collective bargaining rights in West Virginia. West Virginia also prevents any union from forcing an employee to stay or join as a condition of employment – also known as the “Right to Work.” 

Discrimination & Harassment Laws in West Virginia Workplaces

Under the West Virginia Human Rights Act, it is illegal to discriminate against any worker due to:

  • Race
  • Religion
  • Color
  • National origin
  • Ancestry
  • Sex
  • Age
  • Blindness
  • Disability
  • Pregnancy

This is in line with the Civil Rights Act on a federal scale. While many companies include anti-discrimination policies in their employee handbooks, it is essential to note that all West Virginia employers are bound by and responsible for enforcing state and federal laws prohibiting workplace discrimination.

What Employers Need To Know About Discipline & Termination

The West Virginia Division of Personnel provides a general guide on approaching disciplinary actions. When disciplining or terminating employees, employers in the Mountain State must be careful not to violate specific laws. Here are three significant examples:

Employers cannot terminate or discipline workers based on any status protected under the West Virginia Human Rights Act or the Civil Rights Act. For example, employers cannot remove workers because they become “too old.” In many cases, they also cannot discipline a worker for attempting to take time off on a religious holiday. 

Employers cannot violate their employment contracts when terminating employees. These contracts often state that employees may only be fired under specific circumstances. As with any other contract, an agreement signed by both employee and employer is binding on both parties.

Finally, employers cannot terminate or discipline workers for publicly revealing unlawful activity undertaken by the company. For example, a company cannot remove a truck driver for telling reporters that he was instructed to dump toxic waste into a river. Careful adherence to state and federal guidelines via robust internal compliance procedures can help to minimize the likelihood of this eventuality.

West Virginia Laws Regarding Employee Benefits

West Virginia companies are not required to offer their employees any benefits or pensions. However, many choose to do so as part of an overall plan to provide competitive compensation packages and recruit and retain highly desirable workers. Employers who do opt to offer retirement pensions or health insurance benefits must adhere to the Employment Retirement Income Security Act – which outlines several requirements:

  • Standards for clarity and accessibility of information provided to workers
  • Specific minimum standards for participation
  • Funding and accrual requirements
  • Fiduciary responsibilities for fund managers
  • A mandatory appeals process
  • The right to sue for benefits
  • The guarantee of certain benefits under the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation

Discuss Labor Laws With your Business Lawyer

The labor and employment laws in West Virginia are extensive and present varying concerns depending on each business’s priorities, needs, and type. To learn more about compliance, regulation, and best practices, employers in the Mountain State can consult with business law attorneys in West Virginia. Book a consultation with Zeni Law today to begin this critical discussion.