In South Carolina, most people are employed under what is called the at-will standard. However, if you are one of those who has signed an employment contract granting you certain things, you cannot simply be fired at-will—or your employer may be open to being sued for breach of contract. Employment contracts confer rights, and any failure to honor them is actionable. Here’s what you need to know.
Employee Handbooks Can Be Contracts
Perhaps the most common misunderstanding regarding employment contracts is the issue of when one is actually formed and when employment promises are unenforceable. South Carolina does not have many labor laws, instead preferring to abide by federal policies. But one law that the legislature has enacted in recent years deals with employee handbooks. In years past, South Carolina’s courts handed down several rulings which held that an employment contract was created, expressly or impliedly, upon the receipt of an employee handbook (and the agreements contained in it) by the employee in question.
The legislature wanted to preserve employers’ right to retain and terminate employees at will. So a statute was enacted explicitly stating that if a “conspicuous disclaimer” is provided, the receipt of an employee handbook does not constitute a contract. In short, if a visible and obvious statement is made to you, conveying that the handbook is not an employment contract, then it is not. What constitutes a ‘conspicuous’ disclaimer, however, is a question of law, meaning that it can be decided on a case-by-case basis.
Employment Contracts Do Not Preclude Termination
Some employees believe that if they are under contract, they cannot be terminated, because their employment is not at-will. This is simply not accurate. Any employee can be terminated for cause regardless of their status. Contracted employees simply cannot be terminated at will (in other words, with no other reason behind it). If the employee breaches some aspect of their contract, or if they commit an infraction that merits termination, they can be dismissed without fear of breach.
Be advised that in South Carolina, a contract employee cannot sue for the specific tort of wrongful termination. The correct remedy is to bring suit for breach of contract. If you are terminated in a way you feel was unjust, it means that your employer allegedly breached the contract, because you were not supposed to be terminated for any reason other than good cause. Thus, a court wants you to sue for that specific infraction, because upholding valid contracts is in the best interests of both the citizens and the government of South Carolina.
Contact An Employment Discrimination Attorney
Employment contracts are not particularly common in South Carolina, but if you are under contract, you have the right for that contract to be honored. If you have questions or concerns about your employment contract, calling an experienced attorney is a good idea. Attorney A. Christopher Potts has been handling employment law matters for many years and will work hard to get the best possible outcome for yours. Contact Hitchcock & Potts today to schedule an appointment.