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Bill passes allowing employees to defend themselves without being fired

CHARLESTON — Employees who defend themselves from attacks in the workplace could not be fired under a bill passed Friday by the House of Delegates.

House Bill 5621 says 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.

The bill passed 91-5 and now goes to the state Senate.

Delegate J.B. Akers, R-Kanawha, explained the bill during Friday’s House floor session and advocated for it.

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 other 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.

“Our Supreme Court held that the employee could not be terminated for exercising their right to self-defense, so this has been a common law exception to the at-will doctrine since at least 2001,” Akers said. “This continues to be litigated at times, and what we have now is a common law definition or common law description of what that self-defense means.

“So what this would do is we would actually legislate and codify what it means to exercise your right to self-defense and actually provide clarity to employers.”