A worker is fired. Should the worker receive a final paycheck within 72 hours, as state law currently requires?
Or should the business have the flexibility of waiting until the next regular payday to issue the final check?
That's the debate that has sprung up over legislation backed by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.
An employer in West Virginia must pay a fired employee his or her final check within 72 hours of dismissal or face legal penalties, according to state code that appears to have been in place since 1975.
That timeframe is a burden on business, Tomblin said during his State of the State address.
"Small businesses do not need the hassle of re-running payroll every time an employee moves on. Employers should be permitted more flexibility to pay these employees," Tomblin said.
Legislation introduced Friday in both the House and Senate on Tomblin's behalf would offer employers the option to deliver an employee's wages either within the 72-hour window or "no later than the next regular payday," explained Amy Shuler Goodwin, the governor's spokeswoman.
It's a change businesses need and a challenge most other states don't face, said Steve Roberts, president of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce.
"We've been astonished that the Legislature didn't want to deal with this before," Roberts said Friday. "It's just another one of those red flags . . . why would West Virginia want to be this different?"
Many times, companies run their payroll departments from outside West Virginia. Logistically, it can be very difficult to get that money to a person in the current time window, Roberts said. The employee would be paid at the same time anyway, he argued. And the financial ramifications are hefty.
"If the employee is owed $1,000 and the business misses their 72-hour deadline, then the employee is owed $3,000," Roberts said.
That penalty goes up with every day that payment isn't made, he said.
Tom Crouser, who runs the Mink Shoals-based business consulting firm Crouser & Associates Inc., has seen the issue firsthand. Although he said there isn't a great deal of turnover in his company, he remembers a fired employee leaving town immediately after being terminated.
The person came back outside the 72-hour window and was paid, Crouser said. Then he sued Crouser, who had to pay the person another $5,000 in addition to legal fees.