A recurrent theme in viral immune evasion is the sabotage of MHC-I antigen presentation, which brings virus the concomitant issue of ‘missing-self’ recognition by NK cells that use inhibitory receptors to detect surface MHC-I proteins. Here, we report that rodent herpesvirus Peru (RHVP) encodes a Qa-1 like protein (pQa-1) via RNA splicing to counteract NK activation. While pQa-1 surface expression is stabilized by the same canonical peptides presented by murine Qa-1, pQa-1 is GPI-anchored and resistant to the activity of RHVP pK3, a ubiquitin ligase that targets MHC-I for degradation. pQa-1 tetramer staining indicates that it recognizes CD94/NKG2A receptors. Consistently, pQa-1 selectively inhibits NKG2A + NK cells and expression of pQa-1 can protect tumor cells from NK control in vivo. Collectively, these findings reveal an innovative NK evasion strategy wherein RHVP encodes a modified Qa-1 mimic refractory to MHC-I sabotage and capable of specifically engaging inhibitory receptors to circumvent NK activation. DOI: https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.38667.001.