House bill: Workers could retaliate against physical attacks in workplace without fear of firing

Employees who defend themselves from attacks in the workplace could not be fired under a bill advanced by the House Judiciary Committee.

House Bill 5621 says that anyone who is physically attacked by a workplace intruder and responds with reasonable and proportionate force — including the potential use of deadly force — to defend themselves or others may not be punished or fired for their actions. The bill allows self-defense not just for actually being attacked but also for instances of a reasonable apprehension about being attacked.

Laura Kimble

“I think this will give some reassurance to employees out there that they can defend themselves,” said Delegate Laura Kimble, R-Harrison, the lead sponsor of the bill. “They don’t have to just take it because they’re worried about their job.”

Delegates on the Judiciary Committee worked on several amendments to try to refine the bill before advancing it. Most members of the committee agreed that the bill was better after their work.

Joey Garcia

“I think this is a really great example of this committee working together, trying to see what the issues of a bill might be and trying to overcome those,” said Delegate Joey Garcia, D-Marion.

He described the case law of a Martinsburg convenience store clerk who was at work in 2000 when a woman wearing a mask and pointing a firearm demanded the store’s money. While employees emptied the cash register, the clerk grabbed the woman, disarmed her and restrained her until law enforcement officers arrived.

The clerk was fired for failure to comply with a corporate policy prohibiting workers from intervening in a store robbery.

“I think this bill really makes it clear the ability of somebody when they’re faced with this type of situation to protect themselves,” Garcia said. “I think this is a very good bill. I support it.”

Carl Martin

Delegate Carl Martin, R-Upshur, expressed skepticism about whether the bill will protect workers in line with its stated goal.

“We’re an at-will employment state. If an employer wants to fire somebody besides race, religion, sex — I think that’s their right. I don’t think this bill will really do anything. I feel like an employer would just fire somebody for whatever reason they want to. I don’t think this accomplishes the intent of the bill.”

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