“What Does it Mean that Virginia a Right to Work State?”

Virginia is a right to work state. What exactly does that mean?

The term “right to work” refers to unionization. When a state is “right to work,” it means that even if a company’s workforce is unionized, a prospective employee is not required to join the union as a condition of employment.

Virginia’s right to work law is set forth in the state code. Va. Code Section 40.1-58 states:

It is hereby declared to be the public policy of Virginia that the right of persons to work shall not be denied or abridged on account of membership or nonmembership in any labor union or labor organization.

In other words, a person cannot be denied employment simply because of their refusal to join a union. Virginia employees have a “right to work” without joining a union.

Furthermore, Virginia employers may not enter into any contract or agreement with a labor union that requires its current or prospective employees to join the union. Va. Code Section 40.1-59 states:

Any agreement or combination between any employer and any labor union or labor organization whereby persons not members of such union or organization shall be denied the right to work for the employer, or whereby such membership is made a condition of employment or continuation of employment by such employer, or whereby any such union or organization acquires an employment monopoly in any enterprise, is hereby declared to be against public policy and an illegal combination or conspiracy.

Essentially, Virginia law prohibits companies and unions from creating a “closed shop” and cannot force current or prospective employees to join a union to work at the company. Va. Code Section 40.1-60 expressly prohibits employers from forcing employees to join a union:

No person shall be required by an employer to become or remain a member of any labor union or labor organization as a condition of employment or continuation of employment by such employer.

Va. Code Section 40.1-62 further prohibits employers from requiring employees to pay union dues:

No employer shall require any person, as a condition of employment or continuation of employment, to pay any dues, fees or other charges of any kind to any labor union or labor organization.

In summary, Virginia’s status as a “right to work” state means that companies must remain an open shop. Employers cannot require employees to join a union to work at the company, nor can an employee be forced to pay union dues, fees, or any other costs to any labor union. Some states are closed shop and allow such activities. But as a right to work state, Virginia law prohibits forcing employees to join a union as a condition of employment.

One last important note. Just because Virginia is a “right to work” state does not mean that non-compete contracts are illegal or unenforceable. The two concepts, even though they sound similar, are distinct under the law. A company may be required to give an employee a “right to work” free of joining a union; but a company may nonetheless limit an employee’s “right to work” under a non-compete agreement.

Do you have questions about a non-compete contract at your company? Contact a Virginia non-compete lawyer for more information.